South Side Morning 5: Running through the sixth starter

1. Miguel Gonzalez will be starting Monday night in Toronto, sparing John Danks from his house of horrors at the Rogers Centre, where he has a 7.27 ERA, averaged less than five innings per start, and nearly started a fight with Jose Bautista.

A friendly explanation is that the Sox are dropping a spot start in the middle of a 19 games in a row stretch, sparing Danks a bad matchup and utilizing Gonzalez’s extensive AL East experience, before continuing on with business as usual. A less charitable reading, since Robin Ventura has refused to define Gonzalez’s long-term role, is that with the top-four of the rotation looking untouchable, the Sox are giving their newest rotation piece an audition for the fifth slot.

Danks, a 10-year veteran at this point, is rightfully given a ton of respect in the clubhouse both for his experience but also his resilience after working his way back from an injury that’s ended a lot of careers. His stuff obviously looks like it’s waned even further early on, but this is a guy who’s evened out after some rough patches to provide acceptable fifth starter performance, and it’s hard to imagine someone like him getting tossed from the rotation after three bad outings. He’ll definitely be challenged, but his removal will necessitate a lot of care and consideration. Danks is still set to pitch later this week against a red-hot Baltimore team, but given how Gonzalez is being thrown to the wolves in his matchup as well, it might be hard for either one to distinguish themselves.

2. This certainly wasn’t a week that showed a lot of organizational confidence in Erik Johnson, who spent the week in Chicago trying to occupy himself with long toss, and ended it by getting optioned to make way for someone who leapfrogged him in the pecking order almost immediately after getting gobbled up on a minor league deal.

Johnson made a poor showing in Spring Training, but has also mastered Triple-A and is 26 years old, making it hard to expect some great breakthrough coming on in Triple-A. Between a pitcher who needs major league opportunities and a Sox team trying to drag a bad offense through a playoff race, there might not be a good match with Johnson and this organization. Obviously there’s not a reason for the Sox to concede this until it benefits them, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, either.

3. New everyday catcher Dioner Navarro is currently off to a horrid start at the plate, hitting .129/.176/.226, and fielding, rating as one of the worst in baseball in early framing numbers. Add that to the large platoon split (multi-year TAv has him at .250 vs. righties compared to a burly .289 vs. lefties) and the prospect of regular work for Navarro seems less than rosy. Mat Latos, for one, would beg to differ.

“I want him to hit. I always want him to do good,” Latos said, pausing at points to try to crystallize his effusive praise. “Even if he’s struggling, he’s still helping the team out behind the plate. That’s a guy who calls a game consistently and he knows hitters. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the game, so if he’s slumping, he’s slumping but he’s still helping out either way with him calling a great game behind the dish.”

“He puts confidence in pitchers the way he calls games,” Latos continued. “There are times where I’ve been on the mound and I’m looking at him going, ‘Why are we throwing this pitch right here?’ But I’m still throwing it and still getting outs.”

A version of Navarro, who is amazingly in his 13th season in the majors despite just turning 32 in February, who hits to his career averages is perfectly fine from the catcher slot, even with the platoon split. But his pitch-calling is going to need to be sublime for more people than just Latos to make this arrangement hold up.

4. If you thought that Latos was left in to pitch through some high-leverage situations Sunday while he was at the end of his rope, you weren’t alone.

“One hundred pitches in, five innings, going into the sixth, it was a little tough and it takes a little toll on your body,” Latos said. “I was kind of running on fumes there, the last part, and I was lucky to get a ground ball.”

Latos’ pitch counts have been on a steady upward trend since the start of the season, but it was a bit surprising to see it come on the day where his fastball command was, again as Latos admitted, at its worst.

5. Ventura mentioned going to Zach Duke as an option, but ultimately wound up handing him the seventh inning. Robin has taken his second-most expensive reliever off of pure LOOGY duty recently, and has been rewarded for it. Duke has gone an inning or more his last five outings — after facing 10 batters total in his first seven — and has allowed just one run and issued a single walk over five and a third, striking out five.

Dan Jennings remains in a weird longman situation, but perhaps Duke having more utility will open some of those single-hitter opportunities up for him. It’d be better than his current rate of appearing in one game per week.

Lead Image Credit: Jerome Miron // USA Today Sports Images

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