Michael Kopech throws a gem in White Sox’ 2-0 victory

The right-hander retired the first 16 batters he faced and allowed one hit with 10 strikeouts in eight scoreless innings — facing the minimum 24 batters. Gavin Sheets and Romy Gonzalez drove in the runs.

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Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox

White Sox starter Michael Kopech allowed one hit and struck out 10 in eight shutout innings against the Royals on Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

First-pitch strikes were a point of emphasis for Michael Kopech between starts this week.

“The biggest thing we talked about,” White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz said.

It didn’t look too good when Kopech’s first pitch against the Royals on Friday night nearly hit leadoff hitter Bobby Witt Jr. in the head.

“Not going to lie — that whole at-bat, I was pretty tense,” Kopech said.

Kopech not only regained his composure, but found a groove he rarely if ever has had in his five seasons in the big leagues. The 27-year-old right-hander retired Witt on a ground ball to third baseman Yoan Moncada and just kept picking up steam.

He retired the first 16 Royals and faced the minimum 24 batters in an eight-inning masterpiece — allowing only one hit and striking out 10 in the Sox’ 2-0 victory before 20,329 fans at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“I was having a pretty good pregame bullpen, but I think we’ve all said this before — a lot of bullpens don’t translate over,” Kopech said. “I was hoping it translated, but I wasn’t too focused. I almost hit Bobby in the head, then I had to lock back in.”

Kopech (2-4, 4.83 ERA) was on a roll in the sixth after striking out Hunter Dozier to lead off the inning — his eighth strikeout and third in a row. But No. 8 hitter Michael Massey — the Brother Rice product — singled cleanly to right field to break up the perfect game.

Kopech never flinched. He induced Jackie Bradley Jr. to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

“I knew it was in the works,” Kopech said. “I wasn’t really focused on it. Fortunately that happened — I was able to go right back to work. That’s part of the game. I wasn’t perfect, and it showed.”

Kopech retired the Royals in order in the seventh and eighth innings and felt strong after 98 pitches — the last one 97.4 mph on a called strikeout of Nick Pratto in the eighth. But manager Pedro Grifol didn’t hesitate to let Kendall Graveman finish it.

“I bargained a little bit [to pitch the ninth],” Kopech said. “Almost just grabbed my glove and ran out there and waved off Graveman. I understand. I had a lot of rest coming up to this one, but we are back on five days [of rest] now, and working over 100 pitches is hard to bounce back from. Definitely understood the move, as much as I wanted it.”

The Sox parlayed four consecutive singles in the second off Zack Greinke to score both of their runs. Gavin Sheets had an RBI single, and Romy Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly.

Hendriks update

Closer Liam Hendriks threw 20-something pitches of live batting practice before the game. But there’s no timetable for his return after missing the first part of the season with cancer treatments.

“It was good,” Katz said. “Everything was a step in the right direction. You don’t want to rush it. It’s a situation nobody has much experience with, and we want to make sure we do the right thing to take care of him and get him back on track when he’s ready.”

Crochet’s debut

Garrett Crochet needed only seven pitches to get through his first inning since Oct. 1, 2021, after Tommy John surgery — a 1-2-3 inning against the Guardians on Thursday night.

“Seven easy pitches,” Katz said.

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