Kopech the next closer? He's 'ready to attack' bullpen role

March 14th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Could become the next White Sox closer?

That role has become one of the possibilities for the right-hander after Kopech’s move from the rotation to the bullpen was announced Thursday.

“It's just a nice opportunity,” said White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz of Kopech’s switch to relief. “You don't know what our bullpen is going to shake out to be and we don't necessarily have a closer. It doesn't mean that could be him. It could not be him, we don't know, but obviously getting that aggressive approach and that mindset could be a really good thing.”

“He has the skillset to do anything,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “He’s a big, strong, physical guy with plus-plus stuff. We’ll see where this goes. This could be really good for us and him or it could be a step for him to get back to where he wants to be down the road.”

Where Kopech would like to be is part of the starting five, a job he handled admirably and at times spectacularly during the first half of the 2023 season with a 4.08 ERA and back-to-back scoreless starts in late May where he allowed three hits, struck out 19 and walked one in 15 innings. The second half of the campaign was a different story.

In 14 games, 11 of which were starts, Kopech posted an 8.10 ERA with 42 walks and 47 hits over 43 1/3 innings. Kopech’s stuff has looked good during Spring Training, during which he's struck out 10 in seven innings, but also totaled six walks and two hit batters, as well as allowing two home runs in his last start Monday against the Rockies. The consistency still was missing for the extremely talented 27-year-old.

“The name of the game is getting guys out as efficiently as possible. And if that’s in a one-inning role or a seven-inning role, it’s the same concept,” Kopech said. “So, nothing changes as far as the approach I have to have as far as going into a game and being ready.

“With this new opportunity, it’s more of being prepared for that first hitter, which seems like it would be obvious as a starter, but a lot of time you feel like you have time to work into a game. That little bit of leeway makes it more difficult to attack. I’m going to come out ready to attack and take this role head on.”

There’s no doubt the relief role will be embraced by Kopech, who posted a 3.50 ERA to go with 103 strikeouts over 69 1/3 innings with 40 of his 44 games out of the bullpen in ‘21. Kopech still remains disappointed in the change.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed. I think that I’ve had success there but it’s been a little too inconsistent,” Kopech said. “I need to find some consistency. That being said, there’s a window and I didn’t achieve it in that window.

“So, now I have an opportunity to find success and help the team in another way. It’s not my first choice where I want to be. I like starting, but I’ve had success in that role, and ultimately we are looking at what’s best for the team this year. If I can help us win games in the back of the game, I’m excited to do that.”

Grifol was impressed by the conversation he had with Kopech, as he put his personal feelings aside for the team. Now, he’s got the chance to possibly help as the last line of pitching defense.

“Sure I’m interested in it. I never really had that role,” said Kopech of closing. “I never really have done that. I would be glad to embrace that role. But I think right now I have to work on being consistent before we talk about a role of that importance.”

“In my conversation with him, he has that vision of being a Major League starter,” Grifol said. “He can be a really good Major League starter somewhere down the road, and he can be one of the best relievers in the game. He’s got that option and not many people have that option. The one thing that really impressed me about him is he took this news and turned it into an opportunity to help this ballclub, help this culture we got going on in here.”