White Sox’ Michael Kopech adjusts, builds toward first season as big-league starter

Kopech’s first live batting practice was less than stellar.

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Michael Kopech throws live batting practice Friday at the White Sox spring training complex in Glendale, Ariz. (Daryl Van Schouwen)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech struck out Adam Engel looking twice. He threw a pitch to Zack Collins that sailed high off the screen. And he allowed a homer to Triple-A shortstop Zach Remillard. Collins also lined a shot near the wall in left-center field.

It was a mixed bag for Kopech in his first live batting practice Friday on the backfields of Camelback Ranch, where Kopech is preparing to be a full-time major league starter for the first time.

“Trying to fight through some tiredness,” Kopech said. “Tried to gear up and that’s something I don’t really need to do. I have that gear already. It’s getting back in that starter routine and realizing that going back out for the next inning isn’t a bigger inning than the inning before. Just do what you did before.”

Kopech spent most of the 2021 season pitching in relief. A starter for most of his life before that, he’s now getting reacquainted with the nuances of starting, and high expectations as the Sox look to him to replace Carlos Rodon in the rotation.

To hear that Kopech, who had COVID in late February, delaying his throwing progression heading into camp, raised an eyebrow. But Kopech said it had more to do with getting up and down for the first time this spring.

“It’s an adjustment period right now,” he said.

“I had some early sliders that were good pitches but not really competitive just because of where they were located, and I went back out there and was able to put them in more of a competitive spot. Made some good adjustments, some changes from inning to inning, which is kind of the name of the game when you are starting.”

On Wednesday, Kopech will likely make his first start, against the Rangers at Camelback Ranch, leaving him time for two starts before the season opener and lining up his first start of the season for the first home series against the Mariners.

At that progression, it won’t be a seven inning start. In fact, five could be a reach. So it goes when spring training is only three and a half weeks.

“We’re just going to go outing to outing, inning to inning for him and monitor it that way and see how he’s doing, getting feedback between outings,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said. “It’s kind of like Carlos in the sense that, kind of seeing where he’s at and kind of making the right assessment. And maybe it’s a skipped start at some point and somebody else hops in to give him a little breather. We’ll see how he’s doing.”

Katz likes what he’s seen of Kopech’s changeup this spring, which bodes well. His fastball and slider are premium pitches, and enough to survive with in relief. Starting requires an expanded arsenal.

It was a changeup that sailed off the backstop.

“You try not to overthrow but I try to baby it and it slides out of your hand or whatever the case might be,” he said. “But yeah, it’s just those things you’re not happy with because I’ve been in a better spot with that [pitch] coming into today. There are adjustments I need to make and will make going forward.”

Manager Tony La Russa, who seems to not miss a thing roving from field to field, to the hitting cages and all corners of the complex, watched Kopech intently.

“He was better the second inning,” La Russa said. “A little out of whack, he got on it and got better. [The pitchers] just need to throw more.”

As Kopech said, all pitchers are in a unique situation this spring.

“It’s a slow growth,” he said. “So my build up may not be exactly where I want it to be. I may not be able to go into the season at full capacity or whatever you want to call it but I’ll be able to build up fairly quickly.”

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