A pair of Sox on the comeback trail

A pair of Sox on the comeback trail

White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy delivers during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles. Peavy is healthy again and hoping to return to the form that made him one of the majors’ best pitchers. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Last year was a disaster for White Sox players Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy; it seemed improbable they would bounce back in 2012. Peavy, a former Cy Young winner, was recovering from a severe injury and pitched only 19 games last year. Dunn had plenty to deal with after one of the worst years a player could have in major league baseball. His problem was not physical – it was a mental struggle.

Flash forward to this season: It’s only May but now both Sox players are vying for “comeback player of the year.”

Peavy has been plagued with several injuries throughout his career (he was hurt when he dealt to the White Sox). But his most recent injury, a rare detached latissimus dorsi muscle, (his tendon literally came off the bone in his back) seems healed now. And excluding his outing Tuesday afternoon against the Tigers – he gave up 6 runs in the 6th inning, the only bad start of the year – he has been terrific this season, with a record of 4 -1 and a 2.65 earned run average. Now the right-hander has two complete games and is among league leaders in innings pitched and strike-outs. No wonder Peavy was named American League Player of the month in April.

Peavy says he’s relieved that fans can finally see the pitcher White Sox General Manager Ken Williams acquired in 2008. “It’s nice to finally be healthy in this uniform,” he says.

But here’s the kicker with Peavy: After all his struggles, this could be his final year with the South Siders. His salary is now at $17 million, and attendance at U.S. Cellular Field has sharply declined. Next season Peavy stands to make $22 million, if the team picks up his option. They will probably opt out of a deal that would cost the Sox $4 million, so the one real curve ball to this situation is: What do the Sox do if they can be in contention for the post-season?

Adam Dunn celebrates with Alejandro DeAza after hitting a 2-run homer against the Tigers on Monday. (AP/John Smierciak)

Then there’s Adam Dunn. The winter before the 2011 season, the designated hitter signed a big contract; the weight of that deal appeared to be too much for his 6’6” frame to bear. His 11 home runs were not what his 4 year, $56 million contract was supposed to bring Chicago’s South Side. This season, the slugger has already hit 12 homers with 28 runs batted in. He is among league leaders in those categories, as well as slugging percentage, walks, extra base hits and total bases.

2011 was such a horror show it seemed fans booed Dunn before he even went to the plate. He set a very undesirable mark of 177 strike outs – the most ever in Sox history. Coupled with his paltry home run output, who could blame the fans? He doesn’t fault them for their sentiments but has admitted it was a tough experience – especially rough for his family to endure.

Dunn had a solid history before he made the switch from the National League to the American League. Now that his form is back, Dunn has a pile of strike-outs. But that has always been the case in his career.

The next two days (the schedule makers did no favors to the White Sox) the South Siders are in California to play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before returning for a weekend series with the Cubs. Dunn told me he plans to talk to former St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols. The Sox DH identifies with what his friend is going through. Like Dunn, Pujols switched leagues for a huge contract, and is now in a major slump as an Angel, with a low batting average and only one home run. Of course, if Pujlos stays in his slump two more days that would be just fine…

As for Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn, there’s no sure bet both players will continue with what they’ve started. At least now the Sox are seeing some dividends from all the money they’ve invested in these two players