Struggling White Sox starter Michael Kopech dispatched to the bullpen

“Kind of giving me an opportunity to work on some things mentally and physically,” Kopech said.

Michael Kopech will likely finish the last three weeks of the season in the bullpen. (AP Photo)

White Sox starting pitcher Michael Kopech reacts after San Francisco Giants’ Thairo Estrada hit a home run the Sox’ home opener on April 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

AP Photos

DETROIT — Michael Kopech still wants to be a starter, and the White Sox’ plan for 2024 is to have him in the rotation.

“He’s a starter,” manager Pedro Grifol said.

For the rest of this season, however, Kopech likely will pitch out of the bullpen.

“Kind of giving me an opportunity to work on some things mentally and physically,” Kopech said.

The struggling right-hander’s results have been downright awful, and there’s little to gain by running him out every five days to fight a losing battle with his pitching demons.

Perhaps pitching out of the pen, where he worked with success in 2021, will have some benefit.

That’s the hope for Grifol, who on Friday said Jose Urena would be called up from Triple-A Charlotte to fill Kopech’s turn in the rotation against the Tigers on Saturday.

“Talked to him about it, and we’re going to back off a little bit and throw him out of there,” Grifol said. “That does not mean that he’s a bullpen guy. It does not mean we’re not going to start him in the future. . . . We’re going to back him off a little bit and try to get some ‘wins’ here and there as far as him going out there an inning at a time or two innings at a time and start building him up.”

Acquired with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade with the Red Sox in 2016 that kicked off a rebuild that, after gaining some momentum, flopped the last two seasons, Kopech was a highly ranked prospect once viewed as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

In 2020, he opted out of the season for personal reasons. In 2021, he had a 3.50 ERA, making 40 relief appearances and four starts. This season, he leads the majors with 89 walks and has a 5.16 ERA.

He would seem to be among the leaders in bad body language, as well, often wearing his pitching problems on his sleeves.

His decline is a big reason why the 2024 rotation looms as a serious question mark. Dylan Cease has a 4.98 ERA, Mike Clevinger has a mutual option and Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens are trying to show they deserve another look.

Kopech could profile as a late-inning reliever with his good stuff, but throwing strikes is an obvious necessity. That has been an obvious problem.

“I’ve gone down there before,” he said of the bullpen. “I know that it’s a little different preparing to come into that game than it is as a starter. But you don’t have a whole lot of time to think or overthink.

“It’s more get out there and get after it. We think that will serve me well. It’s an opportunity I’m trying my best to embrace.”

Grifol said Kopech has battled mechanical issues of late. When he’ll be used and how many innings he’ll go remain to be seen. If he throws a good inning, he might get a second.

“Right now, all I want him to do is finish the season healthy and in the right frame of mind, mechanically sound and just start building for 2024,” Grifol said.

In all probability to be a starter.

“I would like to start,” Kopech said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to do that. But at the end of the day, I’m a major-league baseball player and I’m a major-league pitcher, and whatever innings or inning I’m throwing doesn’t change that fact. I’m extremely grateful to be in the position I’m in.”

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