On the first day that Dane Dunning threw live batting practice since having Tommy John surgery last March, leave it to Michael Kopech to steal his thunder.
Not to minimize the pivotal and symbolic breakthrough for Dunning, one of the White Sox top prospects, who is definitely someone to watch in 2020, but after Kopech completed his own live batting practice against White Sox hitters, the words coming from manager Rick Renteria about Kopech was the biggest pitching news of the day.
“Honestly, he’s looking far more advanced than most people might think,” Renteria said about Kopech, who is six months ahead of Dunning in his return from Tommy John. “I think he’s commanding a lot better. Changeup, breaking ball, fastball, the misses are minimal. The ball is coming out of his hand loose and hot. Looks really good.”
“Yeah. I’m a lot more comfortable already than I thought I would be. With all the work I put in last year and ending the season on a good note with a couple innings there, I felt like coming into spring was a little more relaxed for me, because I wasn’t having to get here and then prove that I can still pitch,” Kopech said. “I do feel like I’m in a good spot. I do feel like there’s some things that need to be worked on. I’m in a better spot than what I thought I would be.”
Kopech faced some menacing White Sox hitters. Among them Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal. The new White Sox catcher, who is coming back from an injured calf injury, tested the calf by running out of the box to first base several times, showing no signs of problems.
With a flamethrower like Kopech, you might be wondering about his velocity. Ask Kopech, and he’s not thinking about it at all. At least, not yet.
“To be honest, I don’t want to know until I’m in a game. There’s no point in me finding out how hard I’m throwing right now. It would just be something I’m conscious about that I don’t need to be conscious about.”
He’ll throw another batting practice session in five days and says that his first Cactus League appearance could come after that.
“I think I’m getting close. Breaking balls are something I’ll need to fine tune a little bit. I need to be a little quicker with them,” Kopech said. “I feel very comfortable. I’m pretty relaxed. I don’t feel like I’m getting too far ahead of myself, but I haven’t been in a game situation yet so I can’t really speak to that very well.”
As for Dunning, taking the mound against live hitters for the first time in more than a year, he was thrown straight into the fire. Moncada was the first batter he faced.
“I was a little nervous because it was my first time facing hitters. I was a little amped,” Dunning said about pitching to Moncada. “If one runs away from me, I think that would have been really bad for my career. Luckily enough I was able to actually throw some strikes. It was fun.”
Dunning was able to locate his fastball. “I was getting after it. It was a controlled hard,” he said. He got a feel for his changeup and spun some breaking balls as well.
Considering the long sludge that is Tommy John recovery, how big of a step was this for Dunning?
“I feel like it’s that hump I just got over, facing live hitters again. Getting back in action again, it’s exciting for me because I know that games are coming soon.”