White Sox righty Michael Kopech’s workload will be watched; his work has been stellar

Michael Kopech will be missed when the White Sox reel him in and sit him down as they manage his workload during his first planned full season of starting.

Big picture, as in the entirety of the 2022 season assuming October will exist for the Sox, as well as Kopech’s career, it’s probably for the best. Kopech pitched 69 1/3 innings when he went 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA in 40 relief appearances and four starts in 2021, and his career high for innings is 141 between Triple-A Charlotte and the Sox. And that was four seasons ago.

So there will be no exhausting the 26-year-old right-hander now. There was none of that on an awfully chilly, damp night at Wrigley Field. After throwing four-plus scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory against the Cubs, Kopech was lifted by manager Tony La Russa in favor of Reynaldo Lopez with a pitch count of 83. A 30-pitch third inning was mostly to blame on Kopech’s otherwise clean outing: No runs, four hits, four strikeouts, two walks.

Kopech lowered his ERA to a Bob Gibson-like ERA of 1.17. In his last nine starts dating to April 18 of last season, he’s 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA. How exactly the Sox manage Kopech’s innings remains to be seen. But it will happen. Right now, he’s at a modest 23.

“The plan is, you look to indicators,” manager Tony La Russa said before the game. “Innings is one indicator, it could be the number of pitches he’s thrown, the number of stressful innings. The last couple of games he’s had his delivery together and that’s less stressful.”

Whether that translates into skipped starts, double-digit days of rest between starts or some combination thereof, the Sox aren’t saying. Let’s just say 200 innings is out of the question and 140 feels more like it.

“Unless you’ve got a crystal ball, man, we just know we’re going to be careful with him,” La Russa said, “and in doubt, rather pitch somebody else than lose a pitcher.”

For all of the Sox’ early season woes — third baseman Jake Burger committed their major league leading 22nd error Tuesday, the offense has disappointed and injuries have weighed heavily — the right-handed trio of Dylan Cease, Kopech and Lucas Giolito has stood as a pillar of the starting rotation, with Lance Lynn expected to complement them when he returns from knee surgery at the end of the month.

There were a couple of sparks of offense on a miserable night to hit. Tim Anderson tied Andrew Vaughn for the team lead with his fourth homer, an opposite field liner into the right field bleachers against Keegan Thompson to give the Sox a 3-0 lead in the third inning. In the second, Jose Abreu reached on third baseman Patrick Wisdom’s error, advanced to third on Adam Engel’s double and scored on Jake Burger’s dribbling infield single. Catcher Reese McGuire’s squeeze bunt then scored Engel.

Thompson hit Harrison in the back leading off the fifth, and then clipped Anderson on the arm with his next pitch. Words were exchanged between Anderson and Thompson, but “my bad” and “you good” kept the peace.

A single by Yasmani Grandal loaded the bases with one out, but Abreu, batting .215, swung at the first pitch and rapped into a double play.

Nico Hoerner’s RBI double against Jose Ruiz cut the Sox lead to 3-1, but Aaron Bummer, Matt Foster and Liam Hendriks (sixth save) each pitched a perfect inning to nail down the win as the Sox improved to 10-13.

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