Michael Kopech hangs 10 (strikeouts) in impressive 5-inning start
Running his fastball up to 98.6 mph and generating 14 swing-and-miss strikes, Kopech was in total control on a walk-free afternoon.
Leave it to NFL superstar Patrick Mahomes to put right-hander Michael Kopech’s performance Sunday in perspective.
“I know he isn’t on the right team,” the Chiefs quarterback tweeted of his fellow Texan and former youth baseball rival, “but my guy is a monster!”
The beneficiary of an 11-hit outburst, Kopech struck out a career-high 10 Rangers in five innings as the White Sox completed their first series sweep with an 8-4 romp at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Running his fastball up to 98.6 mph and generating 14 swing-and-miss strikes, Kopech (2-0) was in control on a walk-free afternoon. Zack Collins said catching Kopech was “almost like playing a video game back there.”
Starting in place of Lucas Giolito after a minor finger injury pushed his turn back to Tuesday, Kopech had thrown between 26 and 41 pitches in his first five outings. He was allowed to reach 87 pitches in picking up his third career victory.
Now 31 months removed from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, Kopech likely will face workload restrictions all season. But even in a swing role with only the occasional spot start, his confidence is growing by the outing.
“I feel like right now I’m throwing a better fastball than I did when I had a 100 mph fastball,” Kopech said. “That might sound strange, but I just know what’s going on in my body and my mechanics every time. Not that I have perfect command right now, but I’m throwing a lot more strikes, and I’m happy with that.”
David Dahl lofted a solo homer off a wayward slider with one out in the second, but Kopech was otherwise brilliant. He allowed three harmless singles and struck out at least two batters in each of his first four innings.
Offensively, Jose Abreu led the charge with a two-run homer in the first off Japanese right-hander Kohei Arihara (2-2). The Sox worked four walks in their first six trips against Arihara, who boasts seven pitches but commanded none in the 43-degree chill.
Arihara followed a 40-pitch first with a 30-pitch second, but the long wait did not seem to bother Kopech. Showing “electric” stuff, according to Collins, Kopech reached three-ball counts only three times in two full trips through the order, ultimately retiring each of those batters.
With Dylan Cease struggling in the No. 5 starter role, the drumbeat will only grow louder for Kopech to enter the rotation. Manager Tony La Russa was left once again to tamp down that excitement.
“This is definitely not the time to think about moving Michael into the rotation,” La Russa said. “He needs to be one of those guys we rely on in the second half of the game. It’s all to the good — his good and our good.”
Spot starts could pop up again when the proper rest is available, but the Sox and Kopech have a plan and intend to stick to it.
“Michael Kopech is going to be a starting pitcher, a top-line starting pitcher, but right now it made sense to get him in condition and add more and more pitches,” La Russa said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. He could pitch in the bullpen all year long. It’s exciting to see he could do both for us.”
Kopech, who turns 25 on Friday, noted he felt “a lot more energetic” than he expected as his outing progressed, but he isn’t about to lobby for a rotation spot.
“Of course, I want to go out there and start every fifth day,” he said. “From my health standpoint, I understand I’m going to have to be restricted this year because I haven’t had a full season coming off the surgery. I just like pitching for a team that wants to win. Everybody wants to win.”