Michael Kopech KO’d in first inning; White Sox trounced in first game back from break

Kopech walked four, hit one batter and allowed a grand slam to Matt Olson.

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Michael Kopech of the White Sox reacts after failing to finish the first inning against the Braves at Truist Park on July 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Getty Images)

Michael Kopech of the White Sox reacts after being pulled in the first inning against the Braves at Truist Park on July 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Getty Images)

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ATLANTA — The first day of the rest of the White Sox’ tumbling season was not a good day in terms of the Dec. 6, 2016, trade that started their once-promising rebuild, which is now tumbling and stumbling right alongside it.

Facing the Braves, who improved to a major-league best 61-29 with a 9-0 trouncing of the Sox on the first day back after the All-Star break, right-hander Michael Kopech (3-8) failed to last one inning in his first start since coming off the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He looked out of sorts from the first pitch, walking Ronald Acuna Jr., grazing Ozzie Albies’ jersey with an inside fastball and walking Austin Riley.

Kopech’s body language — much like what he displayed in his previous three starts, when he failed to last more than 4 ⅓ innings — wasn’t good. And after pitching coach Ethan Katz made a lengthy visit to talk things out with Kopech, Matt Olson slugged his 30th homer of the season, a grand slam. Two outs and two walks after that, Kopech was relieved by Touki Toussaint after 38 pitches — 24 of them balls.

Meanwhile, third baseman Yoan Moncada, the other coveted prospect acquired in that blockbuster trade for staff ace Chris Sale at the 2016 winter meetings, was starting a minor-league rehab assignment for the Charlotte Knights in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, against the Triple-A Iron Pigs. He singled in two at-bats and committed an error at third base. It was just the latest work-back from a line of setbacks that have diminished Moncada’s value since he was acquired.

At the time of the deal, Moncada was the No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and Kopech was No. 30. The Red Sox sacrificed them for Sale, one of the best pitchers in Sox history, who helped bring a World Series title to Boston.

The White Sox made the postseason in 2020 and 2021 but were ousted without success in both, then finished .500 in 2022 before plummeting much deeper this season with a 38-55 record after Friday’s loss.

Kopech, 27, now has a 4.47 ERA as he works toward his goals of career highs for starts and innings. More concerning are his 53 walks, which lead the majors. He has walked 20 batters in his last four games covering 13 innings.

His fastball velocity averaged 94.5 mph, 1 mph below his season norm, but he and manager Pedro Grifol said he felt fine.

“If there’s a positive takeaway for me, I felt physically good,” Kopech said. “Just erratic. Tough way to come back.”

Moncada has played in 38 games, his last on June 13, and is batting .232/.279/.370.

A switch hitter who needs to test his lower back swinging from both sides of the plate, Moncada could need more than a week with Charlotte before rejoining the Sox, who could be in seller mode at the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Kopech, expected to be fully rested and ready to go, was thrown into the fire against the slugging Braves in his return from the IL.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to explain it, really,” he said. “This game is a game where you have to be able to go out there and be consistent and take what you do from one to the next. I wasn’t even able to take one pitch to the next today. Put us in a hole.

“Obviously we wanted to come back after the break and set a tone. Change the pace a little bit. I wasn’t able to do that.”

Toussaint did the work of a starter, throwing 97 pitches in 5 ⅓ innings of one-run ball.

The Sox had five hits against Charlie Morton (10-6) and two relievers, all singles, and hit into four double plays. They made 12 ground-ball outs.

“It’s a tough league when you’re hitting ground balls,” Grifol said. “We have to find a way to elevate the baseball.”

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