GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s only from what has been seen in bullpen sessions and live batting practice, but right-hander Michael Kopech on a back-field pitcher’s mound is one of the more encouraging sights at White Sox spring training.
Kopech, on the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, is throwing with life on his fastball and commanding his pitches. An actual game is in sight, probably sometime shortly after he throws another live BP in five days, he said.
“Honestly, he’s looking far more advanced than most people might think,” manager Rick Renteria said. “His command is a lot better. He’s commanding his pitches — changeup, breaking ball, fastball. His misses are minimal. The ball is coming out of his hand loose and hot. He looks really good.”
By May or June, Kopech might be pushing someone in the Sox’ rotation, which would be a good problem to have.
Kopech said he’s further along than he expected, too. When he misses the glove with his fastball, it’s on the side of the plate he’s throwing to.
“I’m getting close,” Kopech said after a live BP day in which he faced Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and Daniel Palka. “Breaking balls are something I need to fine-tune a little. I need to be a little bit quicker with them, kind of casting them right now. With that being said, I feel very comfortable. I’m pretty relaxed.’’
The Tommy John experience seems to be transforming Kopech from a thrower to a pitcher. He no longer is enamored with 100 mph-and-higher readings on speed guns, but he is running it up there in the upper 90s.
“I didn’t look at velocity at all today,” Kopech said. “To be honest, I don’t want to know. And until I’m told that in a game, there’s no point in me finding out how hard I’m throwing right now because that would just be something that I’m conscious about that I don’t need to be conscious about.”
Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who was scratched from the lineup Thursday with back stiffness, was better Friday, according to Renteria.
“He has been around the block a little bit; we’re going to allow him to dictate, through how he’s feeling, how we proceed,” Renteria said. “He didn’t feel any discomfort today. We’re on the track to recovery.”
• Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (sore shoulder), whose 20-pitch bullpen session Thursday was his first, is slated for more similar sidelines Saturday and Monday. Renteria said Gonzalez came away from Thursday’s work with no issues on Friday.
“He’s feeling good,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He came through it fine. [Pitching coach Don Cooper] was happy.”
• Shortstop Tim Anderson, who was not scheduled to play, did not come to the park because of an upset stomach.