High-five for Michael Kopech in White Sox’ victory against Rays

Kopech overcame a rocky first to throw five strong innings, and Jose Abreu hit his first home run in the Sox’ victory.

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White Sox starter Michael Kopech delivers during the first inning of Saturday’s game.

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If the White Sox’ 3-2 victory Saturday against the Rays had come later in the season, perhaps right-hander Michael Kopech would’ve lasted longer than five innings.

But just more than a week into the season and barely removed from an abbreviated spring training, Kopech was lifted after throwing 75 pitches and allowing one unearned run.

‘‘Five innings, velocity dropped a little bit,’’ manager Tony La Russa said. ‘‘Why send him out there for the sixth? He had an outstanding game. Just let the relievers start out fresh. That was far enough.’’

In his second start of the season, Kopech showed the kind of stuff the Sox hope will take them pretty far when he’s completely ramped up. He struck out five and allowed one hit to recover from a rocky first inning in which he threw 25 pitches and fell behind 1-0.

First baseman Jose Abreu homered for the first time this season with a two-run shot in the fourth, and the Sox went ahead for good on designated hitter Yasmani Grandal’s run-scoring single in the sixth. They are 6-2 through eight games.

The Sox and other teams around the majors still are building up their starters after a spring that was shortened by the lockout, and Kopech is no exception. He made only two starts in spring training, which meant Saturday was only his fourth appearance of the year as he moves from the bullpen to the rotation.

Kopech, however, seemed encouraged about how he’s feeling physically. And if he hadn’t had to expend so much energy early, he thought he could’ve gone more than five innings.

‘‘I think if I would have been more efficient in those first couple of innings that it probably could have been six or even seven,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘But efficiency is something we’re working hard for every day. I was happy with how today went.’’

After that difficult first inning, in which he walked two, the last four innings were different for Kopech, whose fastball topped out at 97.8 mph. He retired the last 10 batters he faced, four of the final six outs he got were strikeouts and his last pitch was a 96.2 mph fastball that Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe swung through.

Unlike when he was a reliever, Kopech had the leeway to work through his early issues and end the day with a good feeling.

‘‘In a game like today, if my first inning would have been as a reliever later on in the game, I don’t think I would’ve completed the inning,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘But as a starter, you get a chance to find your feet and find your legs and get out there and compete. I did that today, and we were able to get a little deeper than it might have looked in the first.’’

Without injured starters Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito, the Sox are relying on Kopech and Dylan Cease to help them weather those absences. Cease has a 1.69 ERA in two starts, and Kopech stayed on a positive trajectory after allowing one run in four innings in his season debut last Sunday in Detroit.

‘‘I want to be able to continue building up and continue going deeper and eating innings, so we can take some stress off our relievers — especially since they’ve been heavily relied on this first week here,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘I’ve been in that position, as well, and I know what it feels like. I want to be able to do my job for the sake of the rest of the team.’’

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