White Sox glimpse future with Michael Kopech's return to starting

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Vinnie Duber
·4 min read
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Michael Kopech gives glimpse of Sox future with start originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Michael Kopech gave the White Sox not only a look at their promising present Sunday. He provided a glimpse into the future.

"Down the road, he'll be in the rotation," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after Kopech's first start since 2018.

The flame-throwing right-hander is pitching out of the South Side bullpen right now, the team easing him back after he missed the entirety of the last two seasons, first due to recovery from Tommy John surgery and then due to personal reasons. He's done a phenomenal job, too, emerging as a multi-inning relief weapon for La Russa and hardly letting anybody reach base.

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Sunday was more of the same, but Kopech was doing it at the beginning of the game. He threw three perfects innings in Game 2 of the White Sox doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox, the organization that drafted and traded him, before putting the first two men on in the fourth and making his exit.

It was another excellent performance, one that showed the White Sox bullpen currently has a fearsome thrower and that the White Sox rotation of the future will have one, too.

"My passion is starting," Kopech said after the White Sox swept the doubleheader. "I think Tony's been able to see that in me since spring training. Not that I was verbally fighting for this start, but I really wanted it when I saw there was an opportunity for a spot start.

"I just tried to really treat it like it was another game when I was coming out of the bullpen. I really didn't go into all my starting routine like I had a couple years ago or whatever. I wanted to be comfortable and go out there and compete."

Along with breakout slugger Yermín Mercedes, there's a good argument to be made that Kopech has been the White Sox best player in the early going this season. He's been downright dominant at just about every turn. While a big injury and those personal reasons made the wait a little longer to see Kopech emerge as a part of the South Side core, it's finally happening.

What Kopech would be able to do following two missed seasons was a big question mark before the season started. It's only been 16 games for the White Sox, but he's answered it so far, showing he can do all the things it was believed he could do years ago.

"I think that might have been in the back of my mind a little bit when I was pitching today, that I have to prove to people that this is what I can do," he said. "I want to go out there and pitch the way I can pitch. I've said it in the past, but whether that role is out of the bullpen or as a starter, I'm still going to have the same mindset batter to batter."

The question now isn't whether he can do it but when he can do it regularly as a member of the rotation.

The White Sox are taking a creative approach to his usage this season as they bring him back from so much time off, trying to build an innings base while simultaneously managing his innings, efforting to have him at his best come September and October, when the team's championship hopes are on the line.

After watching him Sunday, it's not hard to imagine a difficult decision for the White Sox come the postseason: Would Kopech be more useful as a potentially dominant starter or as a potentially dominant multi-inning reliever?

La Russa has been matter of fact that Kopech will join the rotation at some point, and maybe that does mean at some point in 2021. The manager teased a potentially evolving role for the right-hander over the course of the campaign. General manager Rick Hahn said Kopech is targeted to be a member of the starting staff in 2022, though that certainly does not rule out his joining the rotation prior to next Opening Day.

Whenever that moment does come, the White Sox can be confident. They got a glimpse of what Kopech can do in a starting role Sunday, and it was a mighty promising look into the future.

"Definitely for me, a taste of what's to come, hopefully," Kopech said. "Kind of a smaller sample size, but I think that's all the better. Once I get to a point where I'm built up to be a starter and in the rotation — whenever that is, if that's next year or whatever, I'm not sure — as long as I'm ready for that role then, then I kind of have this to look back on.

"Like 'Oh, you can be comfortable up there.'"

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