White Sox

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech was fairly upset with his performance Tuesday afternoon given how much he wants to make the White Sox look wise for their investment and silence his critics.

One of two highly-touted pieces acquired in the Chris Sale trade, Kopech intends to prove to his doubters that two questionable incidents from the past won't determine what appears to be a bright future chock full of 100-mph fastballs. 

So even though Tuesday's outing was his first with the team and should have little bearing on what's to come, the White Sox prospect hoped to provide his new team with much more. Kopech was instead saddled with a long first inning in which he flashed his dazzling potential and later was hit hard. He allowed four earned runs and three hits, including a three-run homer on an 0-2 pitch, in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch. Kopech also struck out two and walked one.

"That's probably part of the reason I'm pretty upset about today," Kopech said. "I'm trying to prove some people right. Obviously that's not the way to do it, but it is early. I think there's some adjustments to be made and once those adjustments are made I can actually be pretty helpful."

The third-ranked prospect in the franchise and 16th overall in baseball, Kopech endured a year-long rough patch beginning in July 2015 when he was suspended 50 games after a positive test for Oxilofrine. Kopech told the Boston Globe last November he didn't knowingly take the substance, but took responsibility for his actions.

His reputation then took another hit last March when Kopech broke a bone in his pitching hand. While it has been reported as an altercation between teammates, Kopech told the Globe he was trying to protect his teammate.

When he returned to action in June, Kopech shined with a combined 2.08 ERA in 56 1/3 innings Single-A Lowell and Single-A Salem. He followed by posting a 2.01 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings at the Arizona Fall League. Kopech said his performance to end the 2016 season was critical moving forward.

"Bottom line is you can't take anything for granted," Kopech said in December. "I've missed too much time in my opinion. This half of the year was very important for me. I needed to show people, whoever, that I'm still out here to compete and get better."

Despite his blemishes off the field, the White Sox determined in late November that Kopech had to be included in a package if they indeed were trading Sale to the Red Sox. To reach that point, where they'd ask for Kopech as one of two main pieces in a deal for potentially the best pitcher in franchise history, the front office turned to both their pro and amateur scouts to search every nook and cranny for opinions.

"Any major transaction you try to do as much due diligence as you can," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We were fully satisfied with the explanation that (Kopech) gave, but also what we were able to uncover through people in the know. This is a really good kid and a kid who wants to be great and he's willing to pay the price and put in the work necessary to be great."

Knowing they'd rebuild, Hahn said the White Sox began to focus their scouts on particular organizations in July. That's when the process of digging deep on Kopech started.

The team contacted old coaches and former teammates to discern what they could about the 20-year-old, who often uses his social media accounts to tweet out inspirational messages and talk about his determination. By the time the White Sox elevated Kopech from potential target to definitive piece they had contacted 12-15 sources.

"In all, it kept coming to back to everybody saying he's so dialed in," amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. "He's an intense kid. He's so hard core with everything he does. There's no soft with Kopech, that's for sure."

The hard-throwing Texan proved that point on Tuesday when he topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun. His fastball sat at 97 mph and he hit triple digits at least three times. 

Kopech started his performance with a three-pitch strikeout of Seattle's Ben Gamel, the radar reading 99, 100 and 100.  

Shortstop Jean Segura then got enough of a two-strike pitch to hit it in front of home plate, which led to an infield single. Segura stole second base and Kopech just missed outside on a 3-2 offering and walked Robinson Cano. Nelson Cruz followed with a rocketed opposite-field RBI double before Dan Vogelbach lined out to center. With two in scoring position and two outs, Kopech threw two quick strikes to Mitch Haniger and looked like he might escape the jam. But his 0-2 slider caught too much of the plate and Haniger crushed it for a three-run homer to left.

"There were some pitches that needed to be down in some counts and there's some pitches that needed to be way down," Kopech said.

Afterward, Kopech shied away from any possible excuses about his performance, one that ended with a strikeout of Carlos Ruiz. The adrenaline wasn't anything he hadn't dealt with before and he thought his pacing was fine. Even though he didn't get a borderline 3-2 pitch to Cano, Kopech thought it was a makeup for an earlier call that had gone in his favor. And even though it was his first outing in big league camp, Kopech wasn't awestruck by facing Cano and Cruz.

He was just disappointed that he didn't excel from the outset. Kopech knows there are plenty more opportunities ahead and believes he's everything the White Sox think he is. He just wants to prove it.

"The toughest part is to stop caring so much about what other people think," Kopech said. "Everybody wants that pat on the back. That's what I had to shy away from is just not to care so much about that because what's being written about me and being said about me wasn't who defines me. That was what I really had to come to grips with and figure out — I'm going to determine my career and not past experiences."

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.