White Sox’ Michael Kopech throws perfect inning in spring debut

Right-hander strikes out one, touches 99 mph.

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White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech gets the Padres’ Ivan Castillo to fly out to center field Tuesday.

White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech gets the Padres’ Ivan Castillo to fly out to center field Tuesday.

Daryl Van Schouwen/Chicago Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Right-hander Michael Kopech’s first outing of the spring could not have gone much better.

Kopech threw a perfect fourth inning Tuesday, retiring the Padres’ Austin Nola on a groundout, striking out Jorge Mateo looking on a 98-mph four-seam fastball and getting Ivan Castillo out on a fly ball to center fielder Luis Robert. The scoreboard gun showed his fastball sitting at 98 mph and touching 99.

Kopech missed the 2019 season after having Tommy John surgery following the 2018 season and opted out last year for personal reasons. He will pitch out of the bullpen — a new role — to open the 2021 season.

“It felt good to be out there and compete again, being out there with those guys after being gone so long,” Kopech said.

“It was a good opportunity to see how that would go,” Kopech said. “Getting loose quick is not something I am used to but I felt just as comfortable. Maybe had a little bit of a racing heart, so to speak. But I felt comfortable, it felt just like a starting role after I got out there on the mound.”

Kopech, who showed a curveball and a slider as well as his heater, needed nine pitches to get through the inning.

Back, in black

When last seen in a Sox uniform in 2016, Adam Eaton hit off his front foot. He has transitioned to hitting off his back foot since then, though.

“My hands are slowing down, getting older,” Eaton said Tuesday, “so gotta give myself more time and more space. How you do that is stay behind the baseball, see your front foot out and allow your hands to work.”

It helps Eaton, 32, see the ball longer, and “it also creates a little more power if you can help it,” he said.

Age has its pros and cons. It allows Eaton to bring an intangible or two.

“Experience is a great equalizer and that’s what mentors are, people who have been through and are willing to share,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Our guys really want to learn. Adam’s influence on the offensive side, the defensive side, the team thing especially now with the recent World Series championship, dealing with the expectations and pressures of having to win. He’s a very intelligent and articulate guy. He’s been a great student of the game.”

First impression of Cespedes

La Russa has watched Cuban outfield prospect Yoelkis Cespedes work in the minor-league minicamp.

“Very impressed,” he said. “His swing, the athleticism, the way he moves, he actually runs pretty well. In our B game against the Dodgers [on Sunday], he had a heck of an at-bat.”

Cespedes has had opportunities to come over from the minicamp and hit in live batting practices against major-league pitchers, “and they haven’t been a picnic,” La Russa said.

“He’s hung in there, and you can tell he’s got loads of talent.”

On the side

Dallas Keuchel threw a side session and will make three or four starts before the opener, La Russa said, “probably enough for someone of his experience.” Dylan Cease will throw live batting practice Wednesday and make his first start Monday against the Cubs, the team that traded him to the Sox in 2016.

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