This wasn’t exactly how Michael Kopech’s debut was supposed to go. But in another way, it was exactly what everyone expected.
It’s darn near impossible to meet the extraordinarily high expectations White Sox fans have for the organization’s wealth of talented prospects, but Kopech was very, very good in his rain-shortened first outing for the major league club Tuesday night on the South Side.
Rain came in the second inning — boy, did it rain — and Kopech, who tossed 52 pitches in a high-stress couple of innings, didn’t return when the game resumed just shy of an hour later. But when he was on the mound, he threw a fastball in the upper 90s, struck out four batters, walked none and allowed no Minnesota Twin to cross home plate.
He impressed the most when after giving up back-to-back singles to start the game, he got three straight outs, escaping his first major league jam in his first major league inning.
It was an impressive display for everyone watching, including the fired-up crowd that gave him a standing ovation any time he got a batter in a two-strike count.
“I think across the board, he shows you not just stuff-wise but makeup-wise, he was in control of everything the whole game,” said White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing, taking over managerial duties for Rick Renteria on Tuesday night. “I thought he held his composure. And after the first-and-third, nobody out, being able to gather himself and get out of that situation, it shows the maturity that he has grown throughout the year, from the first day of spring training when we saw him till now.”
“That was pretty exciting stuff,” Kopech said. “I didn’t really know how many people were going to be here tonight in general. I knew that maybe half the crowd was going to be my family. It was exciting to see how invested the fans were tonight. A standing ovation every time I had two strikes, I didn’t expect that, but that was, it made me feel like I was in a big-time game, and I guess it was a big-time game for me. It was awesome.”
Kopech’s season at Triple-A had its ups and downs, and what was expected by many onlookers to be a quick rise from that level to the majors turned into four and a half months of Kopech pitching well, struggling and then overcoming those struggles to dominate in a fashion that warranted a promotion to the big leagues. After a midseason stretch that saw him issue a bunch of walks and his ERA steadily rise, he was outstanding in his final seven starts as a Charlotte Knight.
He carried that over into Tuesday night, and the guy who plenty thought was this organization’s finest pitcher back in the spring showed why those beliefs were not necessarily unwarranted.
“That’s big for me, knowing that I can still do what I did in Charlotte at this level,” he said. “I’m excited about the next upcoming start, just to see how well I do going deep into the game. I’m just going to throw all my pitches. I was able to use every pitch I have today and for the most part throw them all for strikes. I’m just going to continue to build off of that.”
There will be far more to take from Kopech’s next outing, one that will hopefully be unaffected by rain. And there’ll be more to take from the outing after that. And more and more as he continues to gain big league experience. Two innings are hardly enough to make overarching declarations about the young man’s career.
And so Tuesday simply served as a taste. It did the job of getting the debut out of the way, of allowing fans to give him a standing ovation for simply stepping onto the field. But it was merely an introduction to the major league experience for a guy who has always seemed so ready for it.
“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.”
See you Sunday.