Michael Kopech throws perfect inning in return from Tommy John surgery

Six of Kopech’s 11 pitches registered at 100 or 101 mph on the scoreboard gun.

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Michael Kopech delivers during the first inning of a Cactus League game against the Rangers Tuesday. (Daryl Van Schouwen)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech returned to the pitcher’s mound Tuesday.

He brought his fastball with him.

Eighteen months removed from Tommy John surgery, Kopech made his first appearance in a game since the end of the 2018 season, this one a one-inning start, as planned, against the Rangers in the Cactus League.

Kopech appears to be fully recovered, if his velocity is any indication. His first pitch to leadoff man Eli White registered at 100 mph. He followed that with consecutive pitches of 101, 100 and 101 mph and retired the Rangers in order, getting White and Isiah Kiner-Falefa on ground balls to second baseman Leury Garcia and striking out Greg Bird.

Using a modified windup that begins in the set position, Kopech’s 11th and final pitch of the inning, at 101 mph, was taken by the left-handed-hitting Bird on the outside corner. Six of his pitches touched 100 or 101.

“Yeah, I might have been a little geeked,” Kopech said. “The first step, obviously. It feels nice to be able to compete again. Eighteen months out, I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to compete the way I like to and the way I know I can, and having that ability today, even in a short stint, it’s relieving.”

“Impressive” is how one scout behind the backstop described it.

“Kopech looked impressive,” the scout said. “The sharpness and feel for his breaking stuff was most impressive. That’s usually the last thing to return after TJ.”

Kopech has talked all spring about being less of a thrower and more of a pitcher, so the 100 mph readings were a bit of a surprise.

“I don’t think I’m going to be typically throwing as hard as I did today,” Kopech said. “I don’t want to take anything away from what I did. I’m proud of it, excited, but moving forward, I’m not going to try to be a power pitcher. I’m going to try to be a pitcher.”

No one was surprised that Kopech was amped up being on a mound again, however.

“His competitiveness is still there,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And his desire to want to be here [in the majors] as quickly as possible is there.’’

When that happens is the question of the hour. May or June is the best guess.

“They have a plan in mind, and if I don’t fit into it right away, then I hope to fit into it at some point,” Kopech said. “Right now, I’m just going to do what I do, and hopefully they get me there at the right time.”

Kopech expects to make two more starts this spring, including Sunday against the Mariners.

MLB on spread alert

Media members were not allowed in the clubhouse for the first of probably many days in accordance with MLB’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Reporters conducted player interviews outdoors in prearranged meetings.

“Everybody is being proactive,” Renteria said. “Anything we can do to try to prevent the spread is what everybody is most concerned about.’’

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