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With new mindset, Kopech returns to mound

@scottmerkin
February 12, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Kopech’s side session was considered business as usual for the right-handed hurler possessing electric stuff during the first day of White Sox Spring Training at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday. In one important way, though, it was a welcome change for the 23-year-old, who has been working

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Kopech’s side session was considered business as usual for the right-handed hurler possessing electric stuff during the first day of White Sox Spring Training at Camelback Ranch on Wednesday.

In one important way, though, it was a welcome change for the 23-year-old, who has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery since undergoing the procedure in September 2018.

“Yeah I think it's been a long time coming for me,” Kopech said. “I spent the entire year last year down here on my lonesome trying to get ready. To be able to get back and actually feel like I'm part of a team, that's big for me.”

Clearly, the White Sox do not want to lose a starter with ace potential for an entire season. But in some ways, Kopech’s recovery from the injury could become a major plus. He has matured as a pitcher and corrected some overall mound issues, making for a possibly even more adept pairing with his 100-mph fastball.

Kopech said he doesn’t feel as if he has to work as hard to locate the ball and he doesn’t have to throw the ball harder to make it nasty. He has fine-tuned the little things that he hasn’t really focused on before.

“Command, mentality on the mound. There's quite a bit that goes into the game of baseball, as I'm sure you can imagine,” Kopech said. “It's more than just pitches.”

“When it comes to how I carried myself on the mound, I probably wore my emotions on my sleeve a little bit too much. Now I'm trying to stay a little bit more even keeled,” he added.

In all likelihood, Kopech will begin the season with Triple-A Charlotte, and he will need to work his way back to Major League preparedness after tallying only four big league starts. His innings total will also be watched in 2020, with the White Sox potentially handling him as they did Dylan Cease last year, by limiting his innings and pitches in Spring Training and in Charlotte.

General manager Rick Hahn opened his press conference Wednesday with news that two projected members of the starting rotation, Lucas Giolito and Gio González, are dealing with minor physical problems (Giolito has a chest muscle strain and González has shoulder discomfort). Neither problem presents any sort of Opening Day worry, but even if they did, Kopech’s plan will not change. The White Sox will be patient with someone as valuable as Kopech, just as Kopech will be more patient as a pitcher.

“I'm not going to go out there in the first inning and try to blow fastballs by people,” Kopech said. “I'm going to locate the ball. I'm going to pitch. I'm going to do what I've worked all this time to do well. Velocity will be there when it needs to be there, but it's not going to be my main focus in my pitching. That being said, if it is there when I'm not wanting it to be there, then that's a plus too.”

“Michael’s plan is Michael’s plan,” Hahn said. “We are not going to jeopardize or take chances with any young guy, especially a young guy coming off of an injury. Michael will show all of us where he’s at and when he’s ready.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.