Kimbrel gets fresh start; Kopech pumped for rotation

March 18th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Reliever Craig Kimbrel was asked Thursday whether he was surprised to still be with the White Sox as Spring Training ramps up toward an April 8 regular-season opener in Detroit.

And the veteran reliever answered the straightforward question with a straightforward answer.

“We had discussions toward the end of last year and it kind of looked like that's where [a trade] might have been going. But here we are for multiple reasons,” said Kimbrel prior to Thursday’s split-squad Cactus League victories over the Cubs. “I'm here to get ready for the season and do whatever I need to do.

“If it's close out a game, I'll close out a game. If it's coming and getting a starter out of a jam, I'll do that as well. I'm here to win ballgames. This team is really good. It'd be nice to be a part of it and do my part to help this team win.”

Kimbrel was the best closer in the National League last season when the White Sox acquired him at the Trade Deadline for second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-handed reliever Codi Heuer. It was meant to give the White Sox a powerful bullpen force for the postseason, but Kimbrel struggled with a 5.09 ERA over 24 games in primarily a non-closer’s role.

With 372 career saves, making Kimbrel the active Major League leader, it was thought the veteran would be moved to another team to resume that ninth-inning role. But the White Sox picked up his $16 million option for ’22, and he’s once again part of what looks to be a powerful relief crew leading to closer Liam Hendriks.

General manager Rick Hahn spoke with Kimbrel and his representatives about the situation during the offseason. Kimbrel is focused on helping the White Sox in the present.

“I was very respectful with how straightforward and transparent they were through everything,” Kimbrel said. “Thinking about my career and what I can do and having that on the forefront of their mind, about what might be best for me. In my mind, what's best for me is winning ball games. I want to put another ring on my hand. At the end of the day that's really it.

“I’m just going to do my part, and if everybody focuses on doing their part, that's what this is all about. We play as a team, but we all have our individual jobs that we have to do. Just helping putting that together, helping guys out and doing what I can, that's what I enjoy, is winning and trying to help make guys better.”

Kopech ready for role change
Michael Kopech
would like to take the ball every fifth day as part of the rotation, if the White Sox allow him such regular work as they watch his innings total during his first full season as a starter. He enjoyed last season as an integral part of the bullpen for the American League Central champs, but he sees a better fit as a starter.

“I’m kind of built more for a starter,” Kopech said. “I’m more routine-based. Five days, I can serve myself a lot of good preparing for the next one. I’m looking forward to that opportunity again.

“My dream job is to be a starting pitcher. Obviously being a reliever in the big leagues is nothing to be upset about. I loved it last year. We have a great bullpen and a great starting staff. No complaints on my end. But being able to work my way back into the rotation hopefully, that’s what I want.”

Kopech dealt with COVID-19 at the end of February, so his ramp-up for Spring Training was temporarily halted. He feels healthy now and will throw a few live bullpens before getting a Cactus League start.

Moncada on the run
After stealing a total of 28 bases over his five seasons with the White Sox, the athletic Yoán Moncada would like to run more in ’22. One reporter asked whether 50 stolen bases was possible for the third baseman.

“30,” he said with a laugh.

Going the distance
The White Sox completed a split-squad sweep of the Cubs to open Cactus League play on Thursday, winning, 5-2, in Glendale, and 4-3, in Mesa. Andrew Vaughn homered in his first at-bat at home, while Yoelqui Céspedes, Micker Adolfo, Zach Remillard and Bryan Ramos also went deep. Hendriks threw a scoreless frame.

Pitching in
Manager Tony La Russa said his starting pitchers will get at least three starts during Cactus League action.