DETROIT — Michael Kopech’s first start as a certified member of the White Sox’ rotation lasted four innings Sunday.
Four innings that never meant so much.
“Today was important to me,” said Kopech, finally a starter after serving an apprenticeship of sorts as a reliever last season. “I may have put a little bit of extra pressure on myself because it was important to me.”
Kopech talked to his father on the phone for two hours the night before, which helped him find the right mindset before he allowed a run, two hits and two walks. He struck out three Tigers in the Sox’ 10-1 victory at Comerica Park.
“And I always am thinking about my son and putting myself in a position where I can do more to support his life,” Kopech said. “Today was a big day for me.”
It also was big for the Sox in the context of Kopech building up length after a shortened spring training and shaking off his lackluster final Cactus League start. Kopech threw 69 pitches, 41 for strikes, adjusted on the fly and touched 97 mph in a more-than-acceptable and certainly reassuring outing.
Tim Anderson set the tone with a double on the first pitch, but Kopech set it on the mound before Kyle Crick (1-0), Kendall Graveman, Matt Foster and Tanner Banks, a 30-year-old left-hander in his major-league debut, combined for five hitless relief innings. Banks covered the last two innings and struck out four.
With Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito sidelined by injuries, the Sox need Dylan Cease and Kopech for heavier lifting as the top two arms in the rotation. Vince Velasquez starts the home opener Tuesday against the Mariners, and Dallas Keuchel goes Wednesday. Thursday is TBA.
“Everybody’s an option,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said. “We’ve got some guys that are not here as possible options, guys that are in the clubhouse as options. We’re just going to have to be creative and try to weather this storm and find matchups that best suit the other team’s lineup and kind of work off of that.”
Giolito (abdominal strain) has not landed on the injured list yet but might when the Sox return home Tuesday.
Reynaldo Lopez will stay in the bullpen at least until reliever Joe Kelly is ready to pitch, probably by the end of the month. Cease could work on four days of rest Thursday, but an extra day is preferred. Perhaps Banks, who has starting experience in the minors, will get a start.
Johnny Cueto also is on the horizon. Katz knows the former All-Star, signed to a $4.2 million minor-league contract, from when both were with the Giants. Cueto needs to build up innings at Triple-A Charlotte first.
Being in shape will not be an issue, Katz said.
“When he’s ready, he’ll be banging on the door, and we’re going to be banging on the door at Triple-A to know when he’s ready,” Katz said.
Kopech looked more than ready after a side session with Katz on Friday in which he cleaned up some minor delivery glitches. He figures to go deeper the next time out.
“I really liked being able to get through four, especially when the bullpen has been heavy this series,” Kopech said.
Anderson had three hits, including two doubles, Andrew Vaughn drove in four runs with two hits, including his second homer of the series, and Jose Abreu drove in two runs and had two hits, including a double. Abreu scored three runs.
“The most impressive thing we did was to get our heart broken and come out the next two days and play and get wins,” manager Tony La Russa said.
“We have a real confidence that the chemistry, the environment, the leadership in that clubhouse is going to be outstanding. Good times and tough times. That will not be our issue. Our issue is going to be making sure we can plug in the gaps until we get some pitching back. We’ve got two guys out. Having guys step up and get it done, that’s our issue.”