When the left field gate swung open in the fifth inning of Sunday’s afternoons Chicago White Sox game against the Kansas City Royals, the crowd surrounding the bullpen began to rise to their feet. Michael Kopech emerged and began his long trot to the Guaranteed Rate Field mound. The seven thousand fans scattered across the stadium gave a standing ovation in appreciation of the moment.
Michael Kopech was brilliant in his 2021 Chicago White Sox homecoming.
It was a long-awaited homecoming for Kopech who hadn’t pitched in front of the Guaranteed Rate fateful in nearly two years. He did not disappoint. Kopech did what he had been doing in his previous two appearances which is bridging the gap to the back end of the bullpen in dominating fashion.
The game was knotted at one run apiece when Kopech was handed the ball. The go-ahead run was at second base and Andrew Benintendi was due up. The White Sox offense was sputtering so getting out of the inning with the score tied was critical. Kopech got the job done by calmly getting Benintendi to ground out to second.
In the sixth inning, the heart of the order came to the plate for the Royals and fun began for Micheal Kopech. He struck out Salvador Perez on a fifthly 97 mph fastball up in the zone. He then got Carlos Santana to pop out to Danny Mendick and ended the innings by punching out Jorge Soler.
In the seventh inning, he retired Hunter Dozier and Kyle Isbel then made Michael Taylor look silly with a high slider. The pitch had Taylor so baffled that he swung when the pitch was almost in Zack Collins glove.
Kopech strutted off the mound with a smirk. He had faced seven hitters and recorded seven outs before his day was done. Since returning to the big leagues, Kopech’s stuff has looked better than advertised. Of the 22 hitters he has faced on the season, he has retired 19 of them. His command is much improved. He has located his fastball well and attacked hitters with it.
He has also been able to keep hitters off-balance with his array of off-speed pitches. His slider and curveball look sharp and it has been very difficult for hitters to differentiate which one is coming in. It is a tall task for any hitter to adjust from a 97 mph fastball to an 81 MPH curveball.
Kopech talked about his approach after the game on Sunday:
"“The ability to go out and attack every pitch, it kind of puts you in control. You want to compete to the highest level obviously but things don’t always go your way so you have to be ready for the next one as soon as you come off the mound because that could be tomorrow”."
It is only a matter of time before Kopech rejoins the starting rotation. For the time being, he is appointment television out of the bullpen. Without having to worry about pacing himself, Kopech can unleash his fastball out of the bullpen. Tony La Russa has also carved out the perfect role for him to eat innings in critical situations. Kopech has risen to the challenge every time. He has yet to give up a run this season. Sunday was just the first taste of what fans can expect from Koepch every time he takes the hill.