'I'm back to trusting my stuff': Kopech dominates for second consecutive start

May 24th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- Not even the bugs flying around Progressive Field could stop on Wednesday afternoon in a 6-0 White Sox victory over the Guardians.

And at least one of them tried.

In the sixth inning of the right-hander’s second consecutive mound masterpiece against an American League Central opponent, Kopech threw a pitch to pinch-hitter David Fry, pointed to his eye and waved for some help from the dugout. That bug issue was handled about as quickly Kopech dispatched Cleveland.

“I still don’t know where that pitch was that I threw,” said Kopech with a laugh. “It was a strike, so it’s good. [Catcher] Seby [Zavala] came out and actually blew in my eye and got the bug out. Good battery mate, right there.”

Kopech allowed two hits over seven innings, striking out nine and walking just one. He has thrown 15 innings in his past two starts against the Royals and Guardians, allowing three hits, one walk and striking out 19.

It’s a level of dominance expected from Kopech when he was acquired by the White Sox from the Red Sox as part of the Chris Sale deal in 2016 to begin the rebuild. It’s a level of dominance Kopech has shown before, but not with such a complete and comfortable performance.

“I’m back to trusting my stuff,” Kopech said. “The first few starts of the season, I was kind of searching, trying to feel what it felt like to throw my stuff with confidence again. Now, I feel everything working out front. I have good life on my stuff. The results are showing up. I’m happy with where I’m at.”

“[Kopech had a] really good fastball, and he used it and he kept using it and it kept working,” Zavala said. “As long as he does that every time, it's going to be a good outing for him."

Of his 92 pitches, Kopech threw the fastball 62 times and recorded 12 swings and misses, according to Statcast. He also worked in his changeup 14 times, making the best usage of a pitch he stressed as important during Spring Training.

“[It's a] huge part of [my recent success],” said Kopech of the changeup. “That’s a pitch that for almost 10 years I’ve been searching to find some confidence in. I’ve been able to throw that as consistently as any other pitch that I have.

“[The changeup] gets hitters off the fastball a little bit or at least has them have to respect another pitch. That’s a big part of why the outings have been the way they have [been] the last couple of times. [The changeup] helps my fastball play the way it was supposed to play.”

There’s also a confidence in Kopech on the mound -- a calm demeanor. Against the Guardians, Kopech not only trusted his stuff but trusted Zavala’s game plan, got the baseball and threw it.

“Just in general, throughout [Kopech's] career, he's been getting better with that. It's showing. His work during the week before starts is good and he knows what he has to do,” Zavala said. “He's just got to keep it going."

"I've always wondered when I look at [Kopech's] numbers, 'Who's doing that?'” said Cleveland manager Terry Francona. “I know he's given up a lot of home runs and that's not necessarily something we do very well, but he's got a fastball, changeup -- it's hard, but it's eight miles per hour off his fastball. That's pretty electric stuff."

White Sox starters have allowed 20 earned runs in their past 76 innings over 13 games, with 10 quality starts and an ERA of 2.31.

This team -- which was as bad as nearly any team in the Majors during April -- still has a 21-30 record, but it is 5 1/2 games out of first and one game behind the Guardians for third. The White Sox are 7-2 in this stretch of 19 games where they play 16 against the division, and talks of a lost season are fading as creeping toward thoughts of contention.

“We know that we can win this division,” Kopech said. “A couple of years ago, we did it. Last year, we didn’t live up to our potential. To say the least, we know the kind of team we are. And with this stretch we are about to finish off, I think we can put ourselves in a good position.”

“We’re not going to the playoffs [nine games] under [.500],” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “It doesn’t matter how many games we’re back, we have to worry about us being prepared to win games. The standings will take care of themselves.”