By Matt Spiegel-

(CBS) He’s been great.

He hasn’t been the old Jake Peavy — you know, the 97-98 mph make-anyone-look-foolish Jake Peavy — but that guy is probably gone.  This version will do just fine though.  Outs derived from well placed off-speed pitches count the same as the strikeouts of his Padres dominance.

He was only at 96 pitches through eight innings and had been sailing.  But man, I know I wasn’t the only one who watched him go out to the mound for the ninth in Oakland last night in disbelief.

This early, and this healthy, why bother?   How many instances of his short White Sox tenure do you want me to cite in which he didn’t know when to take his foot off the gas?  How many times can you immediately think of the coaching staff and manager letting him pull that leash just a little bit longer, yielding reduced effectiveness in weeks to follow if not a full-on disabled list trip?  This early, and this healthy, I’d have just let it sit at eight dominant innings, especially after the long offensive top half of the ninth.  Pitchers are expected to be their own CEO’s, and to know themselves better than anyone.  Jake is just hard to trust on that front.

But hey, I don’t have to coach him and live with him in the locker room the next four days.

That’s a mildly paranoid sidelight to the real story: his flat out excellence.  Peavy is one of the great starting pitching stories in this young season, along with Barry Zito in Frisco, maybe Drew Smyly in Detroit, and Brandon Beachy in Atlanta.  He’s so smart on the mound, with everything moving, tailing, biting, and accurate.

The White Sox are rolling, in first place this morning, in part because of Peavy and that young intriguing bullpen, but also because of the wide awake big money hitters who slumbered for all of 2011.

Alex Rios is suddenly, pleasingly, going to right field with regularity. Who is this guy? Outside fastballs have been pounded to the right-center gap for triples. Outside curves, once consistently turned over into ground balls to short, have been poked to right field for singles. If that revelation sticks, his pull power will come back when he’s challenged middle in.

And Adam Dunn, who hit an absolute bomb off a pitcher he owns in Bartolo Colon last night, is playing like the guy Kenny Williams wanted.  It’s a year late, but he’s been a completely different hitter since the spring, taking pitches and getting into counts where he holds the advantage.  His last 46 games of 2011 yielded three homers and 11 RBI. He’s topped that in a five-game stretch.  Lower expectations (discussed candidly by Paul Konerko a month ago) have been good for Dunn, as they always have been.

These three big money gluttonous acquisitions were failures last season, and they were the principal reasons for the awkward “are we rebuilding or not?” off-season.   This year is only 16 games old, but so far this same trio is largely why the White Sox are in first place.

That trepidation felt as Peavy walked out for the ninth last night stands in for the understandable doubt at the resurgence of the costly sluggers.  You have every reason to be skeptical, and to wait to believe.  Is Jake going to stay healthy?  Has Rios actually stopped trying to pull everything for a while?  Is Dunn actually this comfortable and going to stay that way?

Baseball’s long, arduous beauty is that we’ll all get to find out what’s real and what is not.

Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am – 1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am – Noon Ct on Hit And Run.

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