BOSTON — Michael Kopech’s progression toward bigger and better things for the White Sox took another significant step Sunday when the 24-year-old right-hander, responding to getting his first start of the season, breezed through the first nine Red Sox he faced at Fenway Park.
After the White Sox squeezed out a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader, manager Tony La Russa announced that Kopech would get the ball in Game 2. Because it was Kopech, he of the electric arm and big future, a buzz was created.
“He’s fired up and we’re fired up to watch him,” La Russa said.
Kopech was up to the moment.
Pitching against the team that traded him as a prospect with Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale in 2016, Kopech breezed through the Red Sox lineup from top to bottom, striking out four and not allowing a ball out of the infield and jump-starting the Sox to a 5-1 victory in Game 2 and a doubleheader sweep. The sweep hiked the Sox’ record to 8-8.
Kopech’s outing, which wasn’t expected to go past three innings, was over after the first two batters of the fourth reached base.
For now, there are no plans to rush Kopech into the starting rotation, even with Lance Lynn going on the injured list Sunday. Lynn is expected to miss just one start, and in his first season back after missing 2019 because of Tommy John surgery and opting out of 2020, Kopech has worked as a multi-innings reliever.
“He wants to be a starter,” La Russa said. “He understands that he’s getting his feet wet the way he is, because he’s been pitching in pressure situations. The days he gets to watch our veteran starters, who already know how to work in between, it’s the best preparation for him. Especially as we build up the strength in his arm.”
A seven-inning game, on two days rest after his fourth relief appearance against the Indians Thursday, was a good place to fit him into a start Sunday.
La Russa had said maybe three innings, but at 33 pitches he let Kopech start the fourth. After walking Kike Hernandez and allowing a single to Alex Verdugo, Kopech was replaced by Matt Foster, who gave up an RBI single to J.D. Martinez that put a run on Kopech’s pitching line.
Kopech (1.69 ERA) finished with 41 pitches, 25 for strikes. He had thrown 33, 34, 26 and 33 pitches in his four relief outings, his longest lasting 2 1/3 innings.
In a three-run fourth, Yermin Mercedes belted his team-high fourth homer for a 2-0 lead, Danny Mendick blooped an RBI single to center to make it 3-0 and leadoff hitter Nick Madrigal doubled in Mendick to make it 4-1. Madrigal, batting .304, drove in the fifth run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Closer Liam Hendriks, who got the save in Game 1, pitched a perfect ninth in Game 2.