Three-inning stints for White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech ‘very reasonable’

Kopech is transitioning to the bullpen while focusing on his full arsenal of pitches.

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White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech throws on the backfields at Camelback Ranch.

White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech throws on the backfields at Camelback Ranch.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — So far, so good.

Michael Kopech’s transition to the world of the relief pitcher is going about as well as can be expected. The 24-year-old with the electric arm figures to eventually start for the White Sox — the question of the hour is when — but is now easing his way back in the bullpen after a two-year layoff.

Outings of as many as three innings are part of the plan for Kopech this season. The need became more apparent after Reynaldo Lopez, thought to be ticketed for long relief, was ticketed instead to the Sox’ alternate training site.

“The biggest challenge is being acclimated to the routine, and we’ve done a good job getting him with that,” pitching coach Ethan Katz told the Sun-Times. “Now he’s coming out of the bullpen, understanding how to do workouts and throwing when you’re asked to pitch more frequently than you would as a starter.”

At the same time, Kopech is building his way up to being a starter again, leaning on his secondary pitches more at Katz’s urging. All the while, Katz said, he’s navigating through the reliever’s life of “How is my body responding, how do I still get my workouts, and when am I available?”

“He’s been really, really good,” Katz said. “He’s getting changeups over, which is big for him and his future development, and we’re going to keep finding ways to keep having him grow when it comes to his mix of pitches. He could go out there and throw nine fastballs in an inning and be successful, but what is best for him and the team for now and the future is to make sure he’s honing in on his secondary stuff as well.”

That’s for when Kopech becomes a starter — when more than two pitches are necessary for longer stints. Or when he goes multiple innings in relief.

“It depends on how he recovers, but the plan is for him to go more than [two],” Katz said. “Him going out there and throwing three innings is definitely very reasonable. We just want to make sure we’re not putting too much on his plate too soon with workload. He hasn’t pitched competitively in a couple years.

“His growth and development can very much still happen out of the pen and get him prepped for more as the season goes on.”

Kopech is learning in his new job. He grooved a fastball and allowed a two-run homer against the Reds’ Cheslor Cuthbert on Thursday, then retired three batters in a row in his one inning. This spring, he has allowed three runs in five appearances and 6 „ innings with eight strikeouts and two walks.

“This position’s new, and it’s definitely intriguing to me right now,” he said after a recent outing. “As far as stamina goes, that’s kind of what the program I’m on is for, is to get built up and to get used to going on a little bit shorter rest and having a little bit quicker recovery to go again.”

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