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Kopech uses big league mindset in strong start

Right-hander allows one unearned run over 2 1/3 innings vs. Royals
MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For a moment on Saturday, White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech didn't picture himself at Surprise Stadium.

His mindset found himself in the middle of the regular season in the Majors, with runners on the corners and one out in the second inning and Royals third baseman Cody Asche at the plate. The White Sox No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, found himself in a position he'd struggled with: relying on secondary stuff to get him out of trouble.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For a moment on Saturday, White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech didn't picture himself at Surprise Stadium.

His mindset found himself in the middle of the regular season in the Majors, with runners on the corners and one out in the second inning and Royals third baseman Cody Asche at the plate. The White Sox No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, found himself in a position he'd struggled with: relying on secondary stuff to get him out of trouble.

A sign of maturity: instead of burying high-90s fastballs to the big leaguer, he mixed things up with a slider to draw a swing-and-miss and get the strikeout.

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Kopech showed positive steps in Saturday's 9-5 White Sox win, working himself out of that second-inning jam and allowing just an unearned run while striking out three over 2 1/3 innings of work and 21 pitches. The right-hander, acquired by Chicago last offseason in the trade that shipped Chris Sale to Boston, has yet to allow an earned run through his first two Spring Training outings.

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His fastball, which vaulted him into the national prospect spotlight, hummed in the high 90s for most of the afternoon, though he noted that he struggled early to locate the pitch to the glove side. The heater paired well with his slider, and he sprinkled in a changeup he's been working on this spring.

"Overall, I felt like I threw the ball pretty well," Kopech said. "Probably should have thrown a few more changeups in there, but the slider was a good pitch today and I didn't want to stray away from that too much.

"I feel like I was around the plate. Early, I missed arm-side a lot. Once I settled in, I felt like I was around the zone for the most part. My misses weren't far off. I was happy with the way I was throwing the ball to the glove."

The baserunners Kopech allowed were due in part to an array of soft contact and a pair of misplays. Alex Gordon led off the game with a single off the end of the bat, taking a 97-mph fastball and dumping it into right field. He would not score, and nor would Ryan Goins, who laced a ball into the right-center-field gap that right fielder Daniel Palka struggled to control, resulting in a triple.

After walking Bubba Starling, up came catcher Drew Butera with two outs. Again, Kopech trusted his offspeed and threw it for a strike. Then he brought his typical velocity, a 99-mph fastball past Butera that was his fastest of the day according to the scoreboard out in left field.

"It definitely makes you throw it and not try to baby it," Kopech said of the situation. "For me, I have to get those situations. In the Minor Leagues, I'm a strikeout pitcher. I may not be as much of a strikeout pitcher at the Major League level, but I know that I can reach back when I need to and get a strikeout."

A final wind-aided mistake ended Kopech's day, as Alcides Escobar's popup fell harmlessly less than three feet from the mound and out of the reach of second baseman Jose Rondon. Escobar would later score on Salvador Perez's double off TJ House, conceding the lone run of Kopech's day.

"I'm happy with limiting damage," Kopech said. "Some stuff happened, but I was glad that we came out of there pretty clean. I'm happy with my performance."

Fabian Ardaya is a contributor to MLB.com.

Chicago White Sox, Michael Kopech