White Sox’ Michael Kopech ready to do his ‘dream job’

Slowed by a bout with COVID in February, right-hander Michael Kopech says he’ll be ready to start the season as a starter.

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Michael Kopech throws a bullpen during White Sox spring training this week. (Daryl Van Schouwen)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech had COVID-19 in late February, which slowed his offseason throwing plan, and he’s still feeling a bit congested. But the White Sox reliever-turned-starter says he’ll be ready to go when the season opens April 12.

“I’m on track,” Kopech said. “We’re kind of in this weird limbo where we are being patient but urgent, and I think I’m right there in the middle of that. There are some things I want to fine-tune right now, but I have to be patient with myself, realizing that we just got to camp. But I feel like I’ll be ready by the start of the season.”

Kopech, a starter throughout his minor-league career, went 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA over 40 relief appearances and four starts in 2021. His transition to the rotation has been mapped out, and he can’t wait.

“It’s always been my dream job to be a starter,” he said.

With Carlos Rodon lost to the Giants in free agency — a big blow for the rotation — the Sox have more than a passing need for Kopech, who figures to add more curveballs and changeups to the fastball/slider mix that was his primary arsenal as a reliever. That expansion is a necessity for going through a lineup multiple times, although Kopech’s innings will be monitored. His career high is 141 innings between Triple-A Charlotte and the Sox, and that was four seasons ago.

“I want to throw as many as I can,” Kopech said. “I don’t know what that’s necessarily going to mean for the season — I’m sure they are going to try to be patient with me and limit me a little bit — but I’m going to go out there and aim for as many as anyone else.”

While Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel have thrown live batting practice this spring, Kopech hasn’t done so yet but should soon. Since he’s behind the others, it seems reasonable to assume his first start of the season won’t go deep into the game.

“You watch, you see where he is,” manager Tony La Russa said. “You may pencil in a plan for him. But if he’s ahead, you move it ahead. If he’s behind, you let him catch up.

“I think you’ve just got to be really careful and look at what you see that time. And then you stick with your plan. But we’re going to err on the side of caution in terms of building up his pitches.”

1963 rookie sensation Ward dies

Former Sox third baseman Pete Ward died Tuesday in Oswego, Oregon, from Alzheimer’s disease complications. He was 84.

Ward was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 (behind Sox left-hander Gary Peters) and was top 10 in MVP voting in 1963 and ’64.

Four homers in in spring openers

The Sox beat the Cubs 5-3 and 4-3 Thursday.

Very few regulars played in the split-squad openers highlighted by home runs from Andrew Vaughn in the first inning and Cuban prospect Yoelqui Cespedes, who also made a nice running catch going back to the center field wall in Glendale. Triple-A shortstop Zach Remillard also went deep. At the Cubs’ Sloan Park, outfield prospect Micker Adolfo homered.

The closer is first

Closer Liam Hendriks was the only big leaguer to pitch, and he notched a scoreless inning with no strikeouts, allowing one single. Hendriks brought his own Rapsodo machine and pitched live batting practice to various parks around Phoenix during the lockout and is as far along as any Sox pitcher.

“I carry my Rapsodo around, so I’m able to check the data and check all that sort of stuff.” Hendriks said. “For me, it’s spin efficiency, true spin and extension and stuff like that. It’s purely based on just trying to compare it to last year and get to the point of if anything’s different, I want to make sure I can adjust that and not get on the side of the ball or on top of the ball.”

Moncada in shape

Yoan Moncada hired a personal trainer for the first time this offseason. “I focused on my full body,” he said through translator. “There wasn’t any specific area where I put a lot of emphasis. Just tried to strengthen my whole body and keep it in better shape.”

Manager Tony La Russa said Thursday that he doesn’t want Moncada, whose 14 homers last season paled to the 25 he hit in 2019, to worry about hitting home runs.

“The emphasis on home runs means a lot of hitters have fewer productive at-bats,” La Russa said. “Just try to make hard contact. I watched him today. His bat’s getting on it when he hits it.”

On deck

No game Friday. Sox vs. Cleveland Guardians Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.

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