It’s been 10 days since Michael Kopech pitched, 10 days since he pitched seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball at Yankee Stadium in that riveting 5-0 White Sox victory capped by Tim Anderson’s three-run homer.
For the White Sox, it was an emotional win the day after Anderson and Josh Donaldson got into it. In the nightcap of a Sunday doubleheader beamed on ESPN, Kopech was also floating about the birth of his second child.
After retiring the last 13 batters in his previous start against the Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field, Kopech retired the first 14 Yankees in New York against one of baseball’s most feared lineups, lowering his ERA to 1.29. After nine days of rest Kopech will face another tough one in the Blue Jays Wednesday (6:07 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM). Lefty Hyun Jin Ryu (5.48 ERA) starts for Toronto.
What comes Wednesday with the Sox’ plan to monitor Kopech’s innings in his first year as a starter is the challenge of shaking rust and maintaining feel for his pitches.
Kopech is a creature of routine, so he has basically gone through his normal regimen between starts twice.
“Sometimes it’s nice to ride a positive start into the next one,” Kopech told the Sun-Times Tuesday. “Sometimes you have a rough one and you don’t want to carry that into the next one. It’s almost as if I have to flush a start and kind of start over. But I feel fresh, I feel good.
“It’s a positive thing — the team’s way of looking out for me since I haven’t thrown so much in the past few years, but I feel good and I feel ready.”
After pitching mainly out of the bullpen last season, Kopech made four starts in each of the first two months, throwing 42 innings. That pace would probably give him 24 starts and about 130 innings, but it could pick up a bit.
“The notion of an innings limit has always been soft,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “And by ‘soft,’ I mean it can go up or down. We entered the year with an expectation of generally where we would like him to finish. But over the course of the year, we have to adjust based on what we’re seeing with our eyes, how the ball’s coming out of his hand, what the metrics are showing us, mechanically [if] there are any issues and what he’s reporting.”
The big picture goal is having Kopech feeling strong in the postseason — should the Sox get there.
So Kopech still expects to get extra rest days intermittently throughout the season.
“I want to be to the point where I can be consistent on a five-day,” he said. “I’m not hoping I want to do that again but for their sake they might want to do that.
“I don’t want to have a limitation on me. I want this year to be as close to a normal year as possible. I try to go out there and make as many innings as I can, make as many starts. It’s great that they’re trying to loosen the reins a little bit but there are precautions they’re going to take.”
On a team that fell below .500 with their loss to the Jays Tuesday, the first of a tough stretch that has the Sox playing at the Rays next and then coming home to play the Dodgers, Kopech is first on the Sox in wins above replacement, a notch ahead of Anderson per Baseball Reference.
“First and foremost, I’m grateful for the position I’m in,” Kopech said. “Coming into the year I didn’t really know what I was. I had that late start in the spring [due to illness], the innings were very limited and when I got going I got in the groove again. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be getting back into a normal five-day but I’ve been fortunate to have some good starts and maybe some lucky ones sprinkled in there.
“Some games I’ve given the team a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for. I’m hoping to have a lot more of those.”