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Michael Kopech takes important step in quest to return to team

Right-hander, sidelined since May 26 with a strained right hamstring, threw off of the mound in a simulated game.

Michael Kopech
Michael Kopech #34 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 26, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cardinals defeated the White Sox 4-0.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Sidelined since May 26 with a strained right hamstring, White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech took an important step Friday toward returning from the injured list, throwing off the mound in a simulated game.

“Saw exciting progress,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Arm had that life. [He] really had — for not being on the mound and throwing to a catcher and a hitter — he had good command of all of his pitches.”

Kopech also did some fielding and practiced pick-off moves. While Friday’s results were promising, the main concern for now is not pushing things. The next step is for him to throw another sim game Monday.

“The more he gets and lets it go, the more he can test exactly how that hamstring feels when you’re thinking about throwing and not being careful,” La Russa said. “That’s where you want to be sure we don’t push it before we’re absolutely certain [and] you get it into a game and just let it all go — that it’s ready to take the stress.”

The question after Monday will be whether Kopech goes on a minor-league rehab assignment. La Russa said what he and team executives Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams saw Friday will start a conversation about whether Kopech’s first game action comes in Triple-A Charlotte or with the big-league team.

Before heading to the injured list, Kopech had worked primarily from the bullpen. In 31 ⅓ innings, he had a 1.72 ERA, and his 12.93 strikeouts per nine innings trails only Liam Hendriks on the team.

Trade talks?

The Sox are still on top of the American League Central because of their depth, but they’re going to need reinforcements by the July 30 trade deadline. La Russa wouldn’t mind if some help arrived a little sooner.

“End of next month is not as appealing as it would be right now to get help,” he said. “If there’s something that makes sense, they’re going to try to make it happen.”

The Sox have had to weather the losses of outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and, more recently, second baseman Nick Madrigal, so those are the two areas of greatest need. But La Russa stressed that the Sox won’t overreact in the trade market and cut into their depth.

“They’ve been making phone calls and keeping staff abreast of possibilities,” La Russa said. “And there’s no doubt in our mind — and fans should understand — that if there’s something that’s reasonable, they’re going to try hard to make it happen.”

Fully open again

Guaranteed Rate Field had added energy heading into the weekend series against the Mariners. Friday was “Reopening Night” as the Sox returned to full capacity.

“It’s going to definitely be dope. It’s going to be cool,” shortstop Tim Anderson said before the game.

No matter the crowd size, fans have been making themselves heard all season. The Sox were 27-12 at home entering Friday.

“The players have talked about it all year long, even when it was at whatever the percentage was — they were so loud, it felt like it was two, three times the number of people here,” La Russa said. “Fans have already made their presence felt and have been part of our success at home.”