Michael Kopech

White Sox' Michael Kopech Dazzles, But Rotation Move Not Imminent

Kopech dazzles again, but move to Sox rotation not imminent originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It's not a matter of if Michael Kopech will pitch in the White Sox rotation. It's a matter of when.

But as for whether that "when" will be right now? Nah.

"This is definitely not the time to think about moving Michael into the rotation," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Sunday.

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La Russa made that statement with a bit of context, describing the team's upcoming schedule, the off days therein and a starting staff that could benefit from a more stable routine after off days and weather-related postponements have wreaked havoc on regularity in the early going. Despite all that, the White Sox rotation has been the strength of the team through 21 games.

But after watching Kopech make his second spot start in eight days Sunday, it's becoming increasingly difficult to say he doesn't give the White Sox an excellent chance to win every time he's on the mound. It almost seems like he's banging down the door for a spot on the starting staff.

"I understand that I'm going to have to be restricted this year just because I haven't had a full season coming off the (Tommy John) surgery," Kopech said. "As far as what I would want, of course I would want to go out there and start every fifth day. But I just like pitching for a team that wants to win."

Kopech dazzled Sunday with a 10-strikeout performance against the Texas Rangers, allowing just one run in five innings. He blew the 41 pitches he threw a week prior — when he was perfect through three innings in Boston before allowing a run in the fourth — out of the water, tossing 87 on Sunday and looking tremendous doing it.

Kopech has been fabulous in his return from back-to-back missed seasons. The White Sox plan to start him in the bullpen has worked to near perfection, as he's only given up one run in his four relief appearances. But his outings have been growing longer and longer, now at a combined eight innings over a pair of spot starts.

Last Sunday, it was clear Kopech's start would merely be the beginning of a bullpen day. He was dominant, but given an appropriate hook for someone who hadn't pitched in four innings since 2018. He was given something much more resembling a starter's workload this Sunday, going five innings and getting the win.

So what comes next?

"Michael Kopech is going to be a topline starting pitcher," La Russa said. "But right now, it made sense to get him in condition and add more and more pitches (as time goes on). ... He has competed so well, shows that he has guts when he goes out there, he keeps his cool and concentration.

"I don’t have a crystal ball. ... He can pitch in the bullpen all year long and maybe next year win 20, or maybe later on he pitches this year as a starter. It’s exciting to see that he can do both for us.

"However the season goes, he’s going to be used in important situations, whether it’s as a starter (or not). You’ll see him pitch the last third of the game. So it’s all good for him. The more he goes out there, getting outs when he has to get them, whether it’s in relief or as a starter, it gets into the bank for his future."

Certainly Kopech isn't going to bounce Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel or Lance Lynn from the rotation. And Carlos Rodón has been an impressive surprise, throwing a no-hitter and impressing in his other two starts to this point, showing the potential for the White Sox rotation to be a deeper and more effective one come October.

But you know what else could make the rotation deeper and more effective? Adding Kopech to it, especially if he's going to keep pitching like this.

Simultaneously, there are again questions about Dylan Cease and what he can give the White Sox this season. He's yet to make it five innings in a start, with some of the things that plagued him during a disappointing 2020 campaign popping up again.

But the White Sox laid out their "creative" plans for Kopech in the spring, and paramount, of course, is what's best for him and his electric right arm, as well as how effective he can be for the White Sox as the season reaches its most critical points months from now.

"As a team with fairly lofty expectations, we want him strong and contributing through October," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said at the outset of spring training. "So we have to be a little bit creative about how we're going to use him in order to get him helping us in Chicago and continuing his development and finishing the year strong and able to contribute, ideally, to a World Series championship."

If keeping him in the 'pen and as nothing more than an occasional spot starter is the best way to do that, then all right.

But Kopech has undoubtedly passed the eye test in April, allowing speculative types to make a pretty good case that he belongs on the starting staff.

The White Sox aren't ready to make that dramatic a move yet, and frankly, they don't have to. Kopech can keep dominating and continue to provide La Russa with a myriad of opportunities in which to deploy him.

We all know where Kopech will end up. It's just a matter of figuring out when he's going to arrive.

"Of course, if it was up to me I’d be trying to put myself out there every five days," Kopech said. "But we have an incredible rotation right now. And with the way everything’s going, I’m happy coming out of the bullpen and being just competitive out of the bullpen.

"I’ll take whatever role I can on this team right now."

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