- Associated Press - Sunday, February 16, 2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - John Danks is feeling rather carefree these days.

The left-hander insisted his shoulder problems are a thing of the past and he’s intent on regaining his old form on the mound as the Chicago White Sox try to climb back to respectability.

“I don’t have any worries about the arm, I really don’t,” he said. “It was nice to have an offseason to really focus on getting in shape and focusing on the season. … I feel great coming into this year. I’m very optimistic and excited to get the game going. It’s been a tough few years.”

Particularly the past two.

Danks has shown he’s capable of winning 15 games, starting a season opener and landing a big contract. He’s trying to get back to that level after two difficult seasons, and the White Sox are looking to re-establish themselves after dropping 99 games a year ago.

A healthy and effective Danks could go a long toward helping them accomplish that.

After all, he was one of their top starters from 2008-12. He posted ERAs of 3.32, 3.77, 3.72 and 4.33 during that stretch, won 15 games in 2010 and landed a $65 million, five-year contract extension before the 2012 season. He started the opener that year, but things quickly took a bad turn.

He started feeling soreness in his left shoulder and made just nine starts before having surgery to repair a capsule tear and remove debris in the rotator cuff and biceps. Danks was hoping to be ready for the start of last season but began the season on the disabled list, and after he came back in late May, things didn’t exactly go smoothly for him.

He labored through 138 1-3 innings, finishing with a 4-14 record and 4.75 ERA in 22 starts. He gave up 28 homers, matching a career high, but as tough as last season was, there were a few positives.

One was that he gave up a career-low 1.8 walks per nine innings.

Another was that he cleared a hurdle simply by getting out there. Although Danks sounded optimistic before last season, the White Sox knew that his comeback wasn’t going to be an easy one.

It was going to take time to regain his arm strength, and that’s something he thinks he now has.

“You name it. I’m stronger,” Danks said. “Not having to force things quite as much. The ball is coming out of my hand night and day better than it was last year and hopefully it will continue to improve. But I feel good about things and confident. I have high expectations for myself and we’ll see. We got to go do it.”

The White Sox have an All-Star at the top of the rotation in Chris Sale. No. 2 starter Jose Quintana had a 3.51 ERA in 33 starts, but beyond that, there are some questions, starting with Danks.

The main one: Can he be the Danks of old?

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