Kopech: 'Took a breath and I settled back in'

March 10th, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Don’t expect White Sox right-hander to throw 100 mph or above on his first four pitches every time he takes the mound, as he did during his return to action from Tommy John surgery and rehab Tuesday against the Rangers at Camelback Ranch.

“Adrenaline was a big factor today,” said Kopech after throwing a perfect first. “I don't think I'm typically going to be throwing as hard as I did.

“I don't want to take anything away from what I did today. I'm proud of it. I'm excited but moving forward I'm not going to try to be a power pitcher, I'm going to try to be a pitcher."

A little bit of both sides of Kopech’s elite profile was on display Tuesday.

He started Eli White with fastballs at 100, 101 and 100 mph before inducing a ground ball to second baseman Leury García on another fastball at 101. He threw two pitches to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, with another groundout to García coming off a 101-mph fastball.

And the inning ended with a 101-mph fastball for a called strike to Greg Bird on a 2-2 count. It was 11 pitches in total, seven for strikes and two out of the zone at the outset leading Kopech to settle down.

“Third pitch, I kind of took a breath and I settled back in,” Kopech said. “I still had quite a bit of adrenaline, going to be honest with you. I was able to command my fastball after those first two, and then aside from that, was happy to get it under my belt.

“After that first batter I just kind of settled in and hit the glove. Even on my slider and my curveball, I felt I was able to throw it pretty much where I wanted it and I was able to throw it with conviction. I was pretty comfortable with everything.”

There were no changeups among Kopech’s Tuesday repertoire, but he hopes to throw some in his next outing Sunday when facing the Mariners in Peoria. In his first actual start since Sept. 5, 2018, when the Tigers knocked him around pre-surgery, Kopech displayed a new modified wind-up after feeling as if he had too many moving parts and his head was moving a lot previously.

“I'm comfortable doing it that way,” Kopech said. “No one has really said if they like it or dislike it, so I'm going to take it as they like it for now. But if there's anything we need to modify moving forward, we'll do that.

“Out of the stretch, I lose that step. Modified wind-up I start basically from a set position in the stretch and then I take a step back and kind of get a bit more momentum that way. Only thing that changes in the stretch is I lose that step.”

Jose Contreras, who is a special assistant to White Sox baseball operations and was a major component for the 2005 White Sox World Series championship, noticed Kopech is getting greater extension with all his pitches. It was something Kopech wasn’t doing before the surgery.

“His pitches are very good,” said Contreras through interpreter Billy Russo. “He’s going to be a plus for us this year.”

“That was a big thing for me this whole rehab process was trying to find feel, and I found a lot more feel in my extension and I was able to get out front and turn over on some pitches and felt a lot better,” Kopech said. “So yeah, he's spot-on with that.”

The ultimate 2020 plan for Kopech hasn’t been divulged by the White Sox, other than he won’t be breaking camp with the big league squad. Kopech chuckled when asked if he could wait until May or even June to join this exciting squad, leaving it up to the organization’s plan.

When Kopech does arrive, the White Sox are going to be watching a more polished pitcher and a more mature competitor, but someone who still can reach back for 100 mph even without an adrenaline boost.

“There is a process and I think he’s understood now the steps he’s going to take to put himself in as good a position as possible,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “The anxiousness of wanting to rush it all, you’ve got to be able to control it. And I think he’s managing it very well.”

“For the most part, I never really felt like I was not part of a team but when you're not competing, a lot of times you become more like a fan,” Kopech said. “So, to get the high-fives and stuff like that and the greetings when I come out of the game, it's a good feeling. I feel like I’m a part of a team again.”