Only three starts into big league career, Michael Kopech a big part of changing feeling around these White Sox


Michael Kopech hasn’t logged many innings in his home ballpark. But he’s a big part of the changing feeling around this White Sox team.

The club has won seven of the 11 games it’s played with Kopech on the major league roster, and while he’s only pitched in three of them, his arrival seems to have accompanied a spark to close out the month of August.

It’s an important thing to see as this rebuilding effort advances. Kopech is still an early arriver when it comes to the wave of highly touted prospects making its way toward the South Side. But his arrival, and that of some young players before him, is supposed to do just that: make this team better.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been a winning team,” Kopech said, “and hopefully it stays that way for a long time.”

Kopech managed to impress again Friday against the Boston Red Sox, even though his second outing at Guaranteed Rate Field was shortened by a rain delay just like his first.

“I’m going to say a little prayer to Mother Nature and see if we can figure things out,” Kopech joked.

He admitted that there were some nerves while facing the organization that drafted him and then traded him to the White Sox in the Chris Sale deal, and perhaps that explained the first pitch of the game hitting Mookie Betts — and the next four missing for a walk to put the game’s first two batters on base. But Kopech impressed by working out of that jam, done with the help of a base-running mistake by Betts. He put two batters on in the second inning, too, and got out of that situation, as well.

There hasn’t been a ton to draw on in Kopech’s 11 innings as a major leaguer. But he’s showing pieces of the enormous talent that had him rated as one of the game’s top prospects.

“Nerves hit me a little more than I thought,” Kopech said. “Obviously, my first six pitches, I was a little erratic. That first pitch got away from me, I got Mookie in the arm there. But after I was able to settle in, it felt like a normal start and I felt pretty comfortable. … It’s a big-time situation when you can get out of a runners in scoring position opportunity. For that to kind of go my way and for me to get back out there and compete the next couple innings, it means a lot for me and the team.”

“It’s impressive,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s able to use his stuff. I think it had more to do hopefully, I’ll have to look at video, but he’s commanding, he’s executing, hopefully hitting his spots. He’s got a lot of life to his fastball, so he’s able to do some things.”

At the same time, the team around him seems to be finding its footing at the end of a long season that general manager Rick Hahn described as the hardest part of the rebuild.

It’s hard to say that the increase in victories has been because Kopech was close to the majors and then finally got a locker in the South Side clubhouse. But the excitement that Kopech’s promotion injected into the fan base went into the team, too. Since Kopech got here, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez have turned in strong outings against two of the best teams in the league. Carlos Rodon has kept pitching in the ace-like fashion he has for months.

And since Kopech’s arrival, the offense has scored fewer than four runs in just two of the 11 games. That includes Friday, when Yoan Moncada — just as much a hyped part of the Sale trade as Kopech was — blasted a two-run homer as part of a six-run output.

The three most recent wins during this improved stretch? They’ve come against the Red Sox and New York Yankees, two teams chasing immediate championships that would figure to overmatch this White Sox group sitting so far below .500.

“Anytime you go out against some of the better clubs in the league, you want to compete. You want to show them what you're capable of doing, how you're going to bear down,” Renteria said. “Not that you take anyone else lightly and you never should, but I think it’s been fun watching them play over the last month. They’ve done a pretty nice job.”

Kopech’s just one player, and one player who pitches every fifth day, at that. But his mere presence is a big deal in this process, and it seems to have helped bring about brighter skies on the South Side.

Those are metaphorical skies, of course. He’s still working on getting the weather to cooperate.

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