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By Daniel I. Dorfman–
CHICAGO (WSCR) All pitchers struggle at times. Even the great ones. With the train wreck of a season John Danks is having with his 0-8 start, what are the options out there for him to get back on track? Some pitching legends said it can be done, but they cautioned it won’t happen overnight.
Jim Palmer and Tom Glavine were two of the great pitchers of any era, not just the recent one. But each had their struggles and related to some extent to what Danks is going through today.
This is not a way of comparing Danks with Palmer and Glavine. Palmer was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1990 and Glavine is a 300-game winner who will be honored in Cooperstown in a couple of years. Danks has been a good pitcher for the Sox since 2007, but is not in that class.
Still, Palmer and Glavine faced rough periods in their careers and could empathize with what Danks is going through today.
Palmer remembered his 1974 campaign for Baltimore when he wound up 7-12 after getting off to a 2-7 start. It was the only season between 1970 and 1978 in which he did not win 20 games and it was discovered during the course of that year he had an ulna nerve problem.
“The only thing you can control is your approach and the process you go through,” Palmer said. “Just do what you can do. But you can only win one at a time. It is a difficult situation. He is not the first guy who has gotten off to a bad start.”
Now an Oriole broadcaster, Palmer has seen Danks pitch this season and notes for the Sox southpaw to turn things around, it will have to be a matter of small steps. He is not going to win eight games in one start.
“John has got to get back to the process,” Palmer said. “One batter at a time and one hitter at a time. As a pitcher, the eight losses are there. You just have to ignore it. The next start is Opening Day.”
Glavine, who last pitched in the majors in 2008, said when a pitcher gets into a funk like the one Danks is going through, there is a tendency to get back on your heels and forget what gets someone into the big leagues in the first place.
“The hard part is recognizing whether you need to make major changes or just subtle little changes,” Glavine said. “I’ve been there and questioning whether I need to completely need to change the way I need or just make a couple a couple of changes in my mechanics.”
According to Glavine, what might be happening with Danks right now is that he is pitching “not to lose” instead of pitching to win. “You are getting in a defensive mode and you are pitching not to make a mistake,” he said. “You start nibbling. You get defensive and you are pitching away from contact and you try not to make a mistake.”
Danks pitched well in April with an E.R.A. of under 4.00, but the woes of the Sox bullpen cost him. Glavine conceded that kind of thing does enter a pitcher’s mind, even if one would not say so publicly.
“It does, it is only natural,” Glavine said. “It just keeps compounding itself. You can’t help but think if that doesn’t happen, it wouldn’t have led to other events. You do fall into a mode of the sky is falling. That never bodes well in any walk of life.”
Glavine remembered bad starts he got off to in 1994 and 1997 and said even a professional athlete get humbled by stretches like the one Danks is going through. He added one of the things Danks should do now is realize he cannot hit or field, he can only worry about what he is doing.
“There are only so many things you can control,” Glavine said. “Essentially it comes down to what pitch do I want to throw and where do I want to throw it?”
Obviously, Sox pitching coach Don Cooper has been working with Danks to get him back on track and return to the form that saw Danks post double digit wins in each of his last three seasons.
“Most of the time the pitching coach is looking for a mechanical flaw,” said Claude Osteen, who served as a pitching coach for several teams after a stellar career of his own in the majors. “Maybe the pitcher isn’t hiding the ball well enough. When you expose the ball to the hitter too soon, you are turning a .260 hitter into a .300 hitter. That is the kind of thing the pitching coach looks for.”
Osteen echoed Glavine and Palmer situations like these have a way of snowballing, but it can turn around. “The more you lose like that, the more you press,” he said. “You finally get to the point and you have said you realize what you have been doing and you go out there and win easily. You will win two in a row and then you will say to yourself, how did I lose five in a row?”
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Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.