Kopech stays on road to rotation with latest spot start originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Michael Kopech's journey to the starting rotation took another step forward Friday.
We'll see how many steps it will take him to finally get there.
The White Sox slow-playing of Kopech makes all the sense in the world after the fireballer missed the last two seasons. His use this year as a multi-inning bullpen weapon/spot starter has been a revelation, and it's hard to imagine things working out better than they have so far as the starting rotation shines without him, not forcing him into starting action earlier than necessary.
But it's possible Kopech is one injury or a bout of underperformance away from being pressed into more regular starting duty, making spot starts like Friday's important for keeping the White Sox top depth piece ready.
"Long-term plan for me, or long-term goal for me, at least, is to get back into the starting rotation and get comfortable doing a five-day routine," Kopech said. "But right now, I'm going to pitch whenever Tony (La Russa) wants me to pitch and do my job every time I go out there. And it's been working.
"I've had a couple outings where I don't feel super sharp. But I'm still getting pretty good results, so I can't really complain about that. Just getting a chance when there's an opening to get into a start and try to do what I can in a start, I think that keeps me fine-tuned for if starting ever comes back around into an opportunity."
Perhaps it's no certainty that he's No. 6 on the team's starting-pitching depth chart right now. After all, Kopech is a long-term piece for these White Sox, and keeping him on the path to a full starter's workload is likely more important than trying to plug any hypothetical hole that might arise.
But in wanting Kopech to be at full strength come September and October, when the White Sox are planning on chasing down a championship, they revealed their intentions on doing everything to win this year.
"You recognize the talent that he is," La Russa said before Friday's doubleheader. "You have the long view with him as a starter, and you have the now view. As it's turning out, his flexibility, when he can start like today or come out of the 'pen, is a real weapon for us.
"You don't have a crystal ball, but at some point, he's going to be an outstanding starting pitcher. Whether that's in 2021 or next year, I don't know."
In the meantime, Kopech will keep being deployed as the White Sox go-to guy in doubleheaders. There have already been three of them this season, with Kopech starting in one half of each of them. There's another coming at month's end, with La Russa letting it slip that Kopech will most likely be starting in that one, on Memorial Day, too.
It's worked extraordinarily well to this point, the White Sox winners in all three of his starts. That includes the latest Friday night that saw him log four one-run innings on 65 pitches, add five strikeouts to his total and hand the baton to the bullpen, with Codi Heuer, Aaron Bummer and Liam Hendriks polishing off the seven-inning affair.
That's just how the White Sox drew it up, of course, from the standpoint of getting the ball to the back end of their bullpen in a two-run game. And even though Kopech's contributions were plenty mysterious coming off his back-to-back missed seasons, the way he's been used has gone almost exactly according to plan, too.
As Kopech said, the long-term vision remains clear: He will be a starter one day. But whether that day comes this season or next, the interim is running rather smoothly, the flamethrower giving the White Sox another arm they can count on as he continues along the path to where he really wants to be.