Kopech gets White Sox excited in DH sweep

April 19th, 2021

’s last start was during his rookie season, when he pitched 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers on Sept. 5, 2018. He allowed seven runs on nine hits and walked away with the loss. Just three days after, he was placed on the injured list to undergo Tommy John surgery.

More than 2 1/2 years later, Kopech made his fourth career start in Game 2 of Sunday’s twin bill, and it was vastly different from where he ended 2018. His dominant three-plus innings set the tone for the White Sox in their 5-1 win over the Red Sox as Chicago swept the doubleheader at Fenway Park. The White Sox won, 3-2, in the opener.

• Box score

“That's exactly why we're so excited, we're all excited, fans, people in the organization, our team,” manager Tony La Russa said. “The progress he made in Spring Training, the way he took the news he's going to be starting the season as a reliever, and then he gets a chance to start and you see what he's capable of doing."

Kopech retired the first nine batters he faced before Boston’s first baserunners of the game. After Enrique Hernández walked and Alex Verdugo singled to start the fourth, Kopech was removed at 41 pitches.

Kopech was charged with the run when Hernández scored, but that was the only blemish on his line. He finished with one hit, one run, one walk and four strikeouts.

Kopech’s four-seam fastball was his most successful pitch against the Red Sox. It accounted for 56 percent of his pitches and was called a strike or whiffed at eight times, the most of any of his pitches, per Statcast.

“Good fastball, good breaking ball. On the mound, he was in control,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I saw him in Chicago when he pitched against us; his stuff is good stuff, and he knows how to use it.”

Chicago’s lineup capitalized on defensive miscues and the long ball to back Kopech and the bullpen.

Kopech’s start had been a long time coming. Boston traded the right-hander to the White Sox in the blockbuster deal that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox in December 2016. During the abbreviated '20 season, the White Sox and Red Sox went head-to-head in 10 games. Kopech was not available to make his first appearance against the team that drafted him, as he elected to sit out the season.

The Red Sox picked Kopech 33rd overall in the 2014 Draft out of Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School. Kopech spent three years in Boston's farm system and racked up plenty of awards and recognition as he reached Advanced Class A Salem.

"I think that might have been in the back of my mind a little bit when I was pitching today,” Kopech said. “But it wasn't my focus, necessarily. I want to go out there and just pitch the way that I pitch, and whether that ... is out of the bullpen or as a starter, I'm still gonna have the same mindset batter to batter,"

The 24-year-old was notified before Game 1 that he was going to start Game 2, but there was a possibility he would be used as a reliever in the opener. 

Dallas Keuchel cruised through five innings instead, paving the way for Kopech to make his first start of the season.

“When I came in [from the bullpen], I kind of got to go through a little bit of a routine,” Kopech said. “Try to be present with what's going on and just not let the wheels spin in my head. It's been two years, and those two years definitely were a challenging two years for me mentally. And so getting back out here is more so proving to myself that I was able to do this,” 

Kopech made a strong impression in the start, to the point that La Russa emphasized he will be in the starting rotation down the road.