White Sox’ Kopech hits 101, says changeup key to first outing
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech touched 101 mph on the scoreboard speed gun.
He also had good command of his developing third pitch, the changeup.
In the Sox’ 7-6 victory Monday against the Athletics at Camelback Ranch, Kopech worked through two scoreless innings in his first Cactus League appearance of 2018, striking out three and walking none. The A’s had two hits, including a deep double to right by Stephen Piscotty.
But demonstrating a step up in maturity over his first spring a year ago, the 21-year-old ranked as the No. 10 prospect in baseball shrugged off those triple digits on the board, citing seven or eight changeups as the highlight.
“I feel like I got the reaction I wanted,’’ Kopech said. “A couple got away from me, but I threw three for called strikes, two were swung over and one was fouled off, so I got a few strikes. I feel comfortable with it and taking it into my next outing.’’
Manager Rick Renteria compared Kopech, who likely will begin the season at Class AAA Charlotte and get called up mid-season, to Josh Beckett — and suggested he could be a better version if the changeup works for him, especially if it’s complementing an upper-90s-or-higher heater.
“He’s actually been throwing a pretty good changeup, starting to get a better feel for it,’’ Renteria said. “He’s starting to let it go. He feels it when he gets extension and gets the delivery; the ball has the carry it needs to get to the plate. Also, the arm action is really good, very deceptive. It allows the ball to show some deception in terms of velocity off his fastball.’’
“The velocity is going to be there for me,’’ Kopech said. “I’m excited about my other stuff right now, throwing my changeup when I can, using my slider as an out pitch. I’m not going to focus on velocity, but it’s always good when it’s there.’’
Getting behind in the count a few times allowed Kopech to challenge himself and use the changeup.
“I think on 2-0, I threw a changeup three times, and it helped me really focus on staying behind it and getting a strike with the pitch,’’ he said. “I feel like it was a productive pitch, and I was OK with it.’’
Kopech pitched one inning in his first appearance last spring, and he gave up four runs, including a home run. So he’s already ahead.
“I felt much more comfortable,” he said.
After going 8-7 with a 2.87 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 119„ innings at Class AA Birmingham last season, Kopech was promoted to Charlotte, where he made three starts, pitching 15 innings. He allowed five earned runs, struck out 17 and walked five.
“Kopech looks great,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said this week. “Everybody has stuff. For him, it’s continue to develop command of the fastball, continue to develop consistency with the changeup and breaking ball.’’
Forget me not
Tyler Saladino, who has battled his share of injuries, is swinging (4-for-7 this spring) like he wants a spot on the roster. The utility infielder has made hard contact almost every time up and was 2-for-2 with a double as the Sox triumphed for the third consecutive day to improve to 3-1. The day was marred, however, by 2017 first-round draft pick Jake Burger’s Achilles injury.
Left-handed relievers Luis Avilan (acquired from the Dodgers) and Aaron Bummer each pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Whether there’s room for two or three lefties in the pen, depending on whether Hector Santiago assumes a role, remains to be seen. But Avilan figures to make the team, and pitching coach Don Cooper was high on Bummer, who throws nothing straight even when playing catch, after his debut last year.
Casey Gillaspie tripled off the top of the center-field wall, and Matt Davidson almost cracked his second homer in two days, settling for a double off the left-field wall. Last but not least, Burger rammed a double off the wall in what sadly could have been his last hit of 2018.
After shortstop Jose Rondon tripled in two runs in the fourth, Charlie Tilson drove in Rondon with a nicely executed suicide-squeeze bunt.
White Sox at Cubs, Mesa, Carson Fulmer vs. Jon Lester, 2:05 p.m. Tuesday, Ch. 9 (Cubs TV), 720-AM.
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