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Danks looks strong, raises hopes

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

GLENDALE, Ariz. – A healthy John Danks can make the White Sox’s strength even stronger.

Pitching coach Don Cooper and the Sox are cautiously optimistic after Danks’ first bullpen session Thursday at Camelback Ranch. The session lasted about 10 minutes with Danks using four pitches. Danks said he felt good during and after the bullpen, which had Cooper, manager Robin Ventura, general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams watching.

“At this point, it’s just trying to get back to where you’re completely healthy,” Danks said. “I felt good, and the next step will be to start worrying about pitches. But right now it’s still proving to everybody that I’m 100 percent healthy.”

Danks, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in August, will take two days off before throwing again Sunday. Cooper wasn’t sure what to expect when Danks took the mound, but he threw better than expected. Danks’ changeup stood out in particular, Cooper said.

“If you lined up 10 pitchers on the mounds out there and said pick out the guy who had surgery, you couldn’t have [done] it,” Cooper said. “So that in itself is telling you something.”

Rios confident: The Sox don’t care about any preseason predictions.

They proved plenty of people wrong last year by leading the AL Central for most of the season before coming up short of the playoffs. Outfielder Alex Rios is ready to do it again this season.

“Expectations in this game are kind of weird,” Rios said. “Look what happened to us last year. Nobody knew we were going to do what we did, and we came through.”

Rios dismissed the notion of facing tougher divisional opponents even though the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians made notable offseason upgrades. He reiterated that a positive attitude will work wonders for the Sox.

Keppinger ready: Third baseman Jeff Keppinger takes pride in getting on base and hitting for contact.

For the first time in his career, Keppinger was allowed to hit instead of being asked to bunt or move base runners with the Tampa Bay Rays. The result: some of the best numbers of Keppinger’s career. He hit .325 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs in 115 games.

Keppinger expects the same success this year with the Sox, likely as the No. 2 hitter.

“When I was a little kid, I used to cry when I struck out,” Keppinger said. “I hated walking back to the dugout knowing I couldn’t run to first base. I felt like everyone was looking at me and upset with me that I didn’t hit the ball. So it’s something that has carried with me throughout my life and career.”

• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at mmontemurro@shawmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter: @M_Montemurro.

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