Notes: Dunning, Kopech progressing in rehab

Mercedes hits grand slam vs. Tribe; Gio throws off flat ground

February 29th, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Some pitchers may take throwing to hitters on the back fields during Spring Training for granted, but not White Sox prospect .

Dunning threw live batting practice to hitters on Friday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March.

“It felt good coming off the mound,” Dunning said. “It was just really fun to get back out there and compete. I was able to locate a majority of my pitches, which was nice. Obviously, the adrenaline pumping, I was amped. I’ll be excited for the next go around where things start to calm down a little bit.

“It’s like that hump I just got over. It’s exciting for me, because I know games are coming soon and everything."

Dunning, who is the White Sox No. 6 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, still has a long way to go in his rehab, but Friday’s successful session was the first major hurdle on his road to recovery. While his journey hasn’t been the easiest, the 25-year-old right-hander has had a strong support system during the process, including fellow White Sox right-hander , who is also recovering from Tommy John surgery and is a little further along in the process than Dunning.

“The whole mental process, the entire rehab,” Dunning said. “You’ll have days where you’ll feel really good and days you’ll feel really bad. It’s very easy to get in very negative thoughts when you’re not feeling good in those times, especially because your whole goal is to get healthy again and your elbow is not feeling good. You get depressed. I was fortunate I had a good group of guys with me to go through this whole rehab process, and the days I felt bad, I was able to bounce ideas off them, talk to them and see how they felt. They helped me a lot.”

Kopech also threw live batting practice on Friday and faced a group of hitters that included third baseman Yoán Moncada and catcher Yasmani Grandal, as he prepares for game action.

“I'm getting close,” Kopech said. “Breaking balls are something I need to fine tune a little. I need to be a little bit quicker with them, kind of casting them right now. With that being said, I feel very comfortable. I'm pretty relaxed. I don't feel like I'm getting too far ahead of myself. But I haven't been in a game situation yet, so I can't really speak to that.”

Kopech -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 20 overall prospect -- missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery after debuting in 2018. White Sox manager Rick Renteria was among the large group of onlookers taking in Kopech’s session, and he sees something special in his young starter this spring.

“Honestly, he's looking far more advanced than most people might think,” Renteria said. “I think his command is a lot better. He's commanding his pitches -- changeup, breaking ball, fastball. His misses are minimal. The ball is coming out of his hand loose and hot. He looks really good.

“I think another year of life has allowed him a little bit of maturation. I think a bit of it is understanding how important the process is. I think one of the things that all people, players specifically, as they start to mature understand is the process. Once they accept the process and understand that at the end of that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, I think they are able to contain themselves, keep themselves focused and keep chipping away and moving forward.”

Kopech has not appeared in a game this spring, and while there’s no timeline for when he makes his first appearance, getting some innings under his belt this spring will be the final step of his 17-month journey back from surgery. It's unknown whether Kopech will start the season in Triple-A Charlotte or break camp with the White Sox, but the 23-year-old is making sure he'll be ready wherever he goes.

“I'm a lot more comfortable already than I thought I would be,” Kopech said. “I felt like coming into the spring was just a little more relaxed for me because I wasn't having to get here and then prove that I can still pitch. It was just continuing what I started last year. And so I do feel like I'm in a good spot. I do feel like there's still things that need to be worked on, but I'm in a better spot than I thought I would be.”

Worth noting
• Catcher continues to make his case for a spot on the White Sox Opening Day roster. The offensive-minded catcher crushed a grand slam during the sixth inning of the White Sox 8-3 victory over the Indians on Friday.

Mercedes, the club's No. 25 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is vying for a spot on the 26-man roster behind catchers Grandal and James McCann. In five games, Mercedes is 4-for-9 with a walk, two home runs and five RBIs, good for a 1.611 OPS.

• Left-hander threw 20 pitches off flat ground on Thursday and will throw again on Saturday and Monday. González has been sidelined by a left shoulder strain.

“Feeling good,” Renteria said. "[Pitching coach Don Cooper] was happy. He came though it fine. He’s got a couple of more sidelines set up. He’s doing good.”

Up next
Right-hander Drew Anderson will take the mound on Saturday as the White Sox take on the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., at 2:05 p.m. CT. The game can be heard live on Gameday Audio.