Michael Kopech’s debut is short but sweet for White Sox
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There were no triple-digit readings on the speed guns for Michael Kopech, and if you read that as disappointing, reconsider.
Kopech can throw baseballs at 100 mph if he wants to, but what the White Sox’ much-ballyhooed pitching prospect demonstrated in his major-league debut Tuesday against the Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field was a pretty good feel for pitching, which, packaged with his premium stuff, could translate into a nice, long career.
In the Sox’ 5-2 loss, it was only a two-inning tease — a rain delay shortened the 22-year-old’s night to the disappointment of an amped-up crowd of 23,133 that was buzzing on almost every Kopech pitch — but the confident Texan looked like more of a pitcher and less of a thrower the Sox saw during spring training.
“I was able to use every pitch I have and was able to throw them all for strikes,’’ Kopech said.
Dripping with sweat on a not-so-hot but humid night, Kopech threw some unhittable sliders with depth and spotted his changeup nicely a time or two, as well as moving a running fastball around the strike zone. He used them all to bring the liveliest crowd of the season to its feet whenever he got to two strikes.
“I didn’t know how many people would be here,’’ said Kopech, who was cheered before, during and after his warmup and throughout his outing. “It was exciting to see how invested the fans were. A standing ovation every time I had two strikes made me feel like I was in a big-time game. It was a big-time game for me.”
Kopech finished off Miguel Sano, Logan Forsythe, Jake Cave and Joe Mauer with strikeouts. And then the rain finished off Kopech.
“I was a little bummed out,’’ Kopech said. “I wanted to go deeper. But either way, I got to experience the debut, and it was a dream come true.”
The rain started after Kopech got Mauer looking at a letter-high fastball — a pitch Mauer disputed with CB Bucknor — and lasted 52 minutes before play resumed. The Sox were cautious with their prized righty, lifting him from the game after two innings rather than risk sending him back out after a cooldown.
Kopech allowed no runs and three hits. He hit one batter and walked none. Thirty-five of his 52 pitches were for strikes.
“That I was able to throw the changeup with good command, good action and have them swing over it was probably the highlight of my night,’’ Kopech said. “That’s something that was a big part of my development.’’
After the delay, Nicky Delmonico homered to center against Twins righty Jose Berrios — who returned after the rain — leading off the bottom of the second to make it 1-0. The Twins scored two against Luis Avilan to take a 2-1 lead in the fourth, one of the runs scoring when Yoan Moncada poorly executed a rundown between first base and second with a runner on third.
Moncada tied it with his 16th homer — and only his second right-handed — but the Twins scored three in the ninth.
Kopech earned a passing grade for his debut but one he’d call an incomplete with only two innings. The Sox’ clubhouse, filled with more media than it has seen all season short of Opening Day, buzzed with anticipation before the game.
“I thought he was unbelievable,’’ said bench coach Joe McEwing, filling in for ailing manager Rick Renteria. “Across the board, not just stuff-wise, he was in control throughout.
‘‘The crowd wants to see him strike everybody out, which is unreasonable. He showed maturity compared to where he was in spring training.’’
There is more to come, and it will be worth watching. The Sox are counting on Kopech to line up on top of their rotation with Carlos Rodon in the coming years.
“This is just the first step,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. “We expect him to continue to build off the success he’s had in recent weeks.’’
Kopech’s next start is scheduled for Sunday in Detroit.