Commentary

Jake Peavy setting the pace

Former NL Cy Young winner gives White Sox a second ace behind Buehrle

Updated: March 31, 2010, 1:49 PM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Jake Peavy has nowhere to go on a rainy morning in Arizona; he is just standing in a doorway and killing time by talking baseball with Steve Stone and a reporter. But trying to keep up with Peavy in conversation is probably like trying to hit against him, because of his intensity.

The man is fired up. He's fired up about the White Sox. He's fired up about the starting rotation. He's fired up about Gavin Floyd and John Danks. He's fired up about pitching in the American League Central. He's fired up about facing the Minnesota Twins while respecting the depth of their lineup.

It's as if Peavy stored up all the energy from the months he spent on the disabled list last summer, after joining the White Sox. "I think we can do some damage," he says, and Stone nods.

The Twins, the AL Central favorites, have a strong lineup and a deep rotation, and the midseason trade resources flowing from a new ballpark. The Tigers have Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, and a cleaned-up Miguel Cabrera. The Indians are armed with Fausto Carmona, who has looked great this spring, and what appears to be a strong offense.

The Royals have a plan.

Jake Peavy
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziDon't tell Jake Peavy that it's only spring training. He is as intense as ever.
The White Sox have Peavy, at the head of what should be a strong starting five, if he is close to what he was in three starts for the White Sox at the end of last season, if he's close to what he was in his years with the Padres. With San Diego, Peavy was established as the guy who wanted the ball in the big game, a guy who went 6-1 in his starts in Dodger Stadium, against the Padres' archrival.

But the White Sox acquired him last season at a time when he was on the disabled list with an ankle injury, and for weeks, he was the guy who hung around the clubhouse. Don Cooper, the White Sox pitching coach, worked with Peavy during his rehabilitation period, and he got to know Peavy; others did not. A player on the White Sox mentioned to Cooper that he didn't really know if Peavy was fully invested in what the team was trying to accomplish. Cooper tried to reassure the player, telling him how diligent Peavy was in his rehab, and how much cared; Peavy just was not in position to take a leadership role, because he was hurt.

In the midst of Peavy's first start, the same player went back to Cooper, with his eyes widened by the enthusiasm and commitment that Peavy seemed to have on each of his pitches. That player told Cooper: You were right, and I was wrong. He's the real deal.

Peavy pitched 20 innings and allowed three runs in those three starts, surrendering six walks and striking out 18, and what stuck with Cooper throughout the winter was that even in light of that success, Peavy had mentioned to him that he really hadn't had the time to rebuild his best fastball -- the kind that he should have this season, after a full spring of preparation. "Everything he throws moves," Cooper said, on the eve of spring training. "If he gets that other bit of fastball he was looking for, he's going to be that much better."

"Look, the thing is, there just aren't a lot of guys who have the stuff and the makeup to be No. 1 guys in this game. There might be 10 to 12 guys in all of baseball who fit that. And he's one of them."

There's more to being No. 1 in a rotation than fastball velocity or movement. Cooper mentioned to Peavy in January that he had yet to determine who would pitch the first game of the season, but Peavy quickly took himself out of the running. He hadn't been around long enough, he said, to have that honor. Mark Buehrle will pitch the opener, followed by Peavy, Floyd, John Danks and Freddy Garcia.

"I don't think those guys [Floyd and Danks] realize how much talent they have," said Peavy. "You're talking about two guys who have already had a lot of success in the big leagues, and they're only -- what? -- 25, 26 years old?"

Floyd is just 27 years old, and Danks is only 24. But Peavy, himself, is only 28, and he's got a Cy Young Award and 95 career wins and the potential to do a whole lot more, for Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox, with his frantic pace.

Other starting pitchers have noticed that before Peavy takes the mound, he does not go through the usual gradual warm-up before a start. There is no extensive session of long-tossing, no meandering and gathering of thoughts in the outfield. About 10 minutes before he's supposed to take the mound, Peavy runs out of the clubhouse at full speed, fires about 20 pitches and he's ready.

He's always ready. Peavy finished his conversation with Stone and the reporter, and then headed off to work. Because of the rain that day, Peavy's scheduled start against the Cubs was postponed, so Cooper wants him to throw a simulated game indoors. The door closes behind him.

And then it opens again. The human bottle rocket has one last thought. "Hey, just wanted to let you know I'm going to throw a no-hitter," he says, and the door closes.

In a simulated game.

Perfect.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine