SURPRISE, Ariz. – Infielder Jeff Keppinger returned Sunday and reliever Jesse Crain took a positive step toward being ready for opening day.
But the biggest question – the strength of John Danks' left shoulder – looms as the White Sox enter the final 2 weeks of the exhibition season.
"Every day it's something else with somebody, but the idea is to have them healthy when we're in Chicago," manager Robin Ventura said after a 10-0 loss to the Royals. "So we're again trying to be cautious to get them to that point where they're healthy and [ready to] start the season."
Barring a major transaction, the Sox appear to be banking on Danks to be ready to pitch at least six innings by their fifth regular-season game against the Mariners on April 6.
Danks could have up to three starts to prove he can throw in the 90-mph range with consistency – starting today against the Reds in Goodyear – with no setbacks from surgery 7 1/2 months ago.
Left-hander Hector Santiago could step in if Danks isn't ready, but Santiago threw only 42 pitches in relief Sunday in a B game against the Rockies.
Crain provided some encouragement after throwing 17 pitches in the B game and said he felt very close to pitching in an exhibition game.
"I was a little nervous [about] how I was going to feel," said Crain, who is recovering from a right adductor strain. "I thought it might be a little sore. But it's a sign it's healing, and it's very close by the way I felt."
Crain said he was tentative at the beginning as he threw only two of his first seven pitches for strikes. But after allowing a two-run homer to Henry Wrigley, Crain threw six of his final eight pitches for strikes with more sharpness.
Reliever Ramon Troncoso, who broke the nail on his right middle finger, is listed to pitch today. Troncoso would be a strong candidate to make the Sox's opening-day roster if Crain suffers a setback.
After missing 8 days because of right shoulder irritation as well as a personal matter, Keppinger returned and went 0-for-3 against the Royals. Keppinger could return to third base today, and Ventura plans to move him around the infield.
"I don't have an issue with my shoulder where it's going to be a problem all season long," said Keppinger, who coped with a broken right ankle this winter.
Catcher Tyler Flowers missed his third consecutive game because of lower back tightness but could return Wednesday.