White Sox righty Michael Kopech’s work has been stellar, but his workload will be watched
Kopech lowered his ERA to 1.17 with four-plus scoreless innings against the Cubs.
Michael Kopech will be missed when the White Sox reel him in and sit him down as they manage his workload during his first full season of starting.
Big picture, as in Kopech’s career and the entirety of this season assuming October will exist for the Sox, it’s probably for the best. Kopech pitched 69 1/3 innings in 40 relief appearances and four starts in 2021, and his career high for innings is 141 between Triple-A Charlotte and the Sox four seasons ago.
So there will be no exhausting the 26-year-old righty now. Not that he’s excited about it.
“It was actually a conversation I was having with trainers; I understand it, and it makes sense,” Kopech said after pitching four-plus innings of scoreless ball in the Sox’ 3-1 victory Tuesday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field under what manager Tony La Russa called “top 10” of his career for challenging, unrelenting weather conditions. “I’m still not going to be happy about it.”
There was no pushing Kopech on this cold, damp, windy night. La Russa lifted him for Reynaldo Lopez at 83 pitches. A 30-pitch third inning shortened Kopech’s otherwise clean outing: no runs, four hits, five strikeouts, two walks. Kopech didn’t want to exit.
“Nothing against the decision, I want to go deeper in games and take a load off our bullpen and actually get a chance to be the guy on the mound for as long as I can,” Kopech said.
Kopech lowered his ERA to a Bob Gibson-like 1.17. In his last nine starts dating to April 18 last season, he’s 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA. How the Sox manage the innings remains to be seen. But it will happen. Right now, he’s at a modest 23.
“The plan is, you look to indicators,” La Russa said before the game. “Innings is one indicator. It could be the number of pitches he’s thrown, the number of stressful innings.”
Whether that translates into skipped starts, double-digit days of rest between starts or some combination thereof, the Sox aren’t saying. Let’s just say 200 innings is out of the question, and 140 feels more like it.
“Unless you’ve got a crystal ball, man, we just know that we’re going to be careful with him,” La Russa said. “And when in doubt, rather pitch somebody else than lose a pitcher.”
There were a couple of sparks of offense on a miserable night to hit. Tim Anderson tied Andrew Vaughn for the team lead with his fourth home run, an opposite-field liner into the right-field bleachers against Keegan Thompson to give the Sox a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
Anderson (.329) has been wearing out the right side of the field for home runs and singles.
“Staying inside the baseball, staying middle to right, and that’s just my approach,” he said.
In the second, Jose Abreu reached on third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s error, advanced to third on Adam Engel’s double and scored on Jake Burger’s infield single. Catcher Reese McGuire’s squeeze bunt scored Engel.
Thompson hit Josh Harrison and Anderson on consecutive pitches. Words were exchanged between Anderson and Thompson, but “my bad” and “you good” kept the peace.
“No need to talk about it; it’s cool,” Anderson said.
Nico Hoerner’s RBI double against Jose Ruiz cut the Sox’ lead to 3-1, but Aaron Bummer, Matt Foster and Liam Hendriks (sixth save) each pitched a perfect inning as the Sox won consecutive games for the first time in 17 days.
Beating the Cubs is always fun.
“You hear the boos and cheers all mixed into one,” Kopech said. “That’s part of it, right? I like the energy being in Chicago and playing against these guys with a high-energy feel like that, even when it is a crappy night.”