Sox lose but Kopech shines in rain-shortened debut
CHICAGO -- Mother Nature did what the Twins offense could not really do during their 5-2 victory Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field: knock out White Sox starter Michael Kopech.
In front of a crowd of 23,133, including 8,000 tickets purchased since Kopech's start was announced Sunday and another 1,400 vouchers cashed in for this night, the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball per MLB Pipeline allowed three hits while fanning four in two scoreless innings. At that point, a heavy rain storm started and delayed the game 52 minutes.
Minnesota starter Jose Berrios returned, but Luis Avilan replaced Kopech for the third. That rain-induced exit didn't dampen Kopech's emotions for this special performance done in front of his parents, his sisters and many other family members and friends.
"It was a dream come true. It's everything I thought about since a little kid. I was pumped," Kopech said. "You see the fans engaged the way they were. It really made me feel more comfortable and feel like I belonged. I just tried to do what I do best and throw strikes."
"I thought he was unbelievable," said White Sox bench coach and acting manager Joe McEwing. "The energy, I'm sure he had so much adrenaline going from the excitement walking out of the dugout leading up to his warmup. And I think it was pretty special by the fans here in Chicago to give him that applause and follow him every step of the way."
Kopech averaged 96.8 mph on his 40 fastballs, which would rank third best among MLB starters who have thrown at least 500 fastballs this year per Statcast™. He also averaged 2,615 rpm on his 4-seamer, which would top Justin Verlander among qualified MLB starters (min. 250 4-seamers).
"Across the board, he shows you not just stuff-wise but makeup-wise, he was in control of everything the whole game," McEwing said. "Except the adrenaline of 20,000-some-odd people wanting him to succeed and basically strike everybody out, which is unreasonable. But I thought he held his composure."
His first pitch of the night to Joe Mauer was a 96-mph fastball for a strike. His second pitch was grounded to center for a base hit. Kopech actually faced a first-and-third, nobody-out situation in the first before retiring Jorge Polanco on a fly ball to left fielder Nicky Delmonico, striking out Miguel Sano with a slider for his first career punchout and then getting Max Kepler on a 3-2 fly out to center fielder Adam Engel.
Two more baserunners reached against Kopech in the second, via a hit batsman and a soft single to left from Bobby Wilson. But Kopech struck out the side in the second with the speeds on his strikeout pitches hitting 98.3 mph, 96.4 mph and 97.5 mph. The final strikeout was a called third against Mauer in a seven-pitch at-bat.
"There was a lot of energy here," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Obviously the Sox fans are very well aware of this guy, and put him being part of the future. I thought he handled it pretty well. He's got three good pitches that we saw, got his strikeouts, all those things."
"My entire life I've tried to prep myself for this moment so I didn't feel overwhelmed when I did get here," Kopech said. "It was just about as spot on as I could imagine. The fans were a lot more engaged than I expected. I wouldn't say it was overwhelming but a really cool experience. It was amazing out there."
Of his six swings and misses on his 52 pitches, three came off Kopech's fastball and three came off the slider. The crowd applauded Kopech from the time he started warming up pregame in the bullpen through every chance he had to record a strikeout. That same crowd was understandably disappointed when Avilan entered the game, with no disrespect meant to Avilan.
Dylan Covey, who Kopech replaced in the rotation, suffered the loss as a result of a three-run Twins' ninth. But Kopech lived up to the advanced billing, with the White Sox not risking their future by pushing him back out after the delay. They enjoyed an important step forward in the rebuild.
"I was a little bummed out. I wanted to go a little deeper into the game," Kopech said. "I didn't realize my pitch count was as high as it was already anyway. But I mean either way I got to experience the debut and like I said it was a dream come true. Even though I didn't get to go deep, it was a lot of fun. At least I got my feet wet and I'll get ready for the next one."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tough to describe: The White Sox ultimately didn't score in the eighth but they had chances thanks to some strange plays. Engel opened the frame with a single but was easily picked off by Trevor May. As Mauer ran Engel toward second, he threw toward the base where nobody was covering allowing Engel to reach second safely. Tim Anderson bunted Engel over to third but then got caught in a rundown between first and second. Eventually, the Twins nailed Engel straying off third in the chaos for the first out but not before Anderson reached third. May struck out Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson to end the inning.
The White Sox have homered in a season-high 13 straight games, with Delmonico and Yoan Moncada going deep Tuesday. It's their longest streak since going 15 games from May 14-29, 2012.
HE SAID IT
"For the most part, with me, the plan is always going to be to throw it until they hit it. Obviously it's going to get hit at some point and I'm going to have to throw my other pitches but I feel comfortable throwing all my pitches right now. Being able to do what I can with that early on is pretty much the game plan every game."--Kopech on throwing 19 fastballs among his 22 pitches in the first inning.
Left-hander Carlos Rodon moves back one day with the arrival of Kopech, getting the afternoon contest against the Twins in a 1:10 p.m. CT start at Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday. Kyle Gibson takes the mound for Minnesota. Rodon is coming off back-to-back eight-inning performances and has a 1.60 ERA over 50 2/3 innings in his last seven starts.