Michael Kopech excelling in multiple roles for White Sox
In seven appearances, he has been a starter twice and otherwise pitched in relief. On Saturday, he threw three scoreless innings from the bullpen.
A multiyear layoff hasn’t kept right-hander Michael Kopech from finding his place on the White Sox’ pitching staff, even if that place is moving back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen.
In seven appearances, Kopech — who didn’t pitch in 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery or in 2020 after opting out because of the coronavirus — has been a starter twice and a reliever five times. On Saturday, he threw three scoreless innings from the bullpen.
‘‘Right now, his flexibility is an important part of what we’ve got to do to get to October,’’ manager Tony La Russa said.
Being a reliever is an adjustment, but it’s one Kopech knew was coming headed into the season.
‘‘I had talked about it with a few guys in spring training, how I should go about being prepared to be a reliever,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘I have an idea of how I should go about being a starter just because I had done it for so long.’’
A starter’s routine is about getting ready to pitch every fifth game, but a reliever must be physically and mentally prepared to pitch every day.
Kopech said he has adjusted his work on a day-to-day basis so he can take the mound any day he’s called upon, whether that’s to start or relieve.
So far, it’s working. Kopech has a 1.45 ERA and is striking out close to two batters an inning. In 18⅔ innings, he has given up only four walks.
In the long term, Kopech still sees himself as a starter. He used his time away from the majors the last two seasons to watch pitchers he wants to model himself after: Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom and Jack Flaherty.
‘‘Those are guys that I have similar arsenals to,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘Maybe not at that level yet, but I hope to one day. Watching how those guys use their arsenals helped me paint the picture of how I should be using mine.’’
Mercedes behind the plate?
Yermin Mercedes has dazzled at the plate, but he has not caught yet this season. La Russa said that won’t happen in the near future, even with the Sox playing in a National League city this week.
‘‘Talent-wise, he’s got it all,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘He’s got really good hands. He’s got an excellent, accurate throwing arm. Where he lacks is just game-time experience and calling a game. This is a difficult place to learn that.’’
Mercedes is behind Yasmani Grandal and Zack Collins on the catching depth chart, and that isn’t leaving much opportunity for him to don the gear. But even though Mercedes is serving primarily as a designated hitter, La Russa said he still is getting a chance to learn the position.
‘‘Even though he’s not catching, [instructor] Jerry Narron works with him every day,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘He has the opportunity during the game to watch how the game is being called.’’
Left-hander Carlos Rodon’s next start is being pushed back to the series against the Royals to give him extra rest and to allow left-hander Dallas Keuchel to pitch on his normal schedule.
When the Sox head to Cincinnati for two games this week, right-hander Dylan Cease will open the series Tuesday and Keuchel will start Wednesday.