White Sox

Michael Kopech is back to work at White Sox training camp but his 2020 starting point is unknown

Michael Kopech is back to work at White Sox training camp but his 2020 starting point is unknown

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Before you ask: no, we don’t know where Michael Kopech will start the 2020 season.

Logical guesses assume the answer is Triple-A Charlotte, with the White Sox starting five seemingly locked in at Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez.

But ask Rick Hahn if Kopech is going to start the season in the minor leagues and you will not get a straight response.

“It's Day 1,” Hahn said on Wednesday. “Let's hold off on cutting guys just yet.”

Okay. So, we’ll have to wait before we get a definitive plan for Kopech, who will make his much anticipated return from Tommy John surgery and is still considered one of the best prospects in baseball. But there is a plan. Or at least the makings of one.

It seems like the White Sox will slow-play Kopech’s return, but not because he isn’t needed at the major league level. It’s not due to health concerns either, with everyone in Glendale describing the young fireballer as 100 percent and without restriction.

Instead, it’s about workload. Kopech has made four MLB appearances, totaling just 14.1 innings. He’s never thrown more than 134.1 innings as a pro (he logged that high-water mark in the minors in 2017, mostly at Double-A Birmingham).

Considering he hasn’t pitched in anything more than instructional league since September 2018, easing Kopech back into the lineup makes a lot more sense than letting him loose in late March. Chicago doesn’t want him running out of gas late in the season when they hope to be competing for a playoff spot.

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“Over the course of this year, we're really going to spend most of the time responding to how he looks, how he feels, how he reports, in terms of setting what's next for him,” Hahn said. “Part of it will be because of the absence of facing hitters last year. It will be a little bit slower of a climb for him than it would be with any other pitcher coming off a full season.”

Kopech had nothing to report to the media on Wednesday, either. But expect him to be limited in some fashion, which could mean a season-starting stint in the minors.

What everyone seems to be on the same page about is the impact he’ll have once he does return to the South Side. It’s been over a year since Kopech pitched in a competitive game and he’s still ranked as a top 20 prospect in baseball.

Kopech still sounds capable of cranking things up to triple digits. Among the differences, you’ll notice that he’s refined his approach to throwing the ball.

“I'm expecting to be a lot more patient with myself,” he said on Wednesday. “I'm not going to go out there in the first inning and try to blow fastballs by people. I'm going to locate the ball, I'm going to pitch. I'm going to do what I've worked all this time to do well.

“I think velocity will be there when it needs to be there, but it's not going to be my main focus in my pitching. That being said, if it is there when I'm not wanting it to be there, then that's a plus too.

“I think (the extended recovery process has) made me more patient overall. It's made me really focus on the things that I didn't focus on before, so it's kind of filled those holes in my pitching repertoire or whatever you want to call it. I've really just focused on defining the things that I really didn't focus on before. I've fine-tuned all the little things.

“There's quite a bit that goes into the game of baseball, as I'm sure you can imagine. It's more than just pitches. And when it comes to how I carried myself on the mound, I probably wore my emotions on my sleeve a little bit too much. Now I'm trying to stay a little bit more even keeled.”

All of that will be important to follow over the course of the 2020 season and throughout Kopech’s career. But on Wednesday, his mere presence in a spring training bullpen, preparing for a season he’ll actually get to pitch in, demanded the most attention.

“I think it's been a long time coming for me,” he said. “I spent the entire year last year down here on my lonesome trying to get ready. To be able to get back and actually feel like I'm part of a team, that's big for me.

“I feel great. It's kind of a work in progress to get comfortable again. I haven't been with the team in a while, so it's just that comfortability. But as far as throwing on the mound, I feel as good as I ever have.”

Hopefully, that good feeling carries into September… and then into October.

He might not be on the Opening Day roster, but he is expected to make an impact in 2020. When that starts, we don’t know.

“Michael’s plan is Michael’s plan,” Hahn said. “We are not going to jeopardize or take chances with any young guy, especially a young guy coming off of an injury, based on somebody else’s performance or health. Michael will show all of us where he’s at and when he’s ready.”

And now we play the waiting game.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland

Jon Garland was on absolute fire to start the 2005 season.

On May 1, he shut out the Detroit Tigers. It was a sensational performance. It was also a carbon copy of his previous outing against the Oakland A’s. Both games featured no runs, four hits and no walks against Garland in nine innings. If anything, he was better against the Tigers, striking out six hitters as opposed to the three strikeouts he had six days earlier.

These back-to-back shutouts capped an incredible start to the campaign for Garland, who was coming off a solid but unspectacular 2004 season. He finished that campaign with a 4.89 ERA. This was already his sixth big league season. In his first five years in the majors, he owned 4.68 ERA in 149 games.

Well, he was a different kind of pitcher in 2005. In his first five starts, he had a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings, an average of nearly eight innings per outing. He had nearly three times as many strikeouts as he had allowed runs.

To close out that game against the A’s, he retired the final 13 batters he faced. In this one, he retired 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

The dude was practically untouchable.

And he still knows it.


Even Cy Young seasons have their blips, and his streak of stellar starts was snapped the next time out. He allowed six runs in 5.2 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. The White Sox still won that game, though, and won each of Garland’s first eight starts, 12 of his first 14 starts and went 20-12 overall in games he pitched during the regular season.

But those blips were few and far between in 2005. In only nine of his 32 starts did he give up more than three earned runs. By season’s end, his ERA was significantly higher than it was at the outset of the campaign, 3.50, but he remained a workhorse and averaged just a hair under seven innings an outing on the year.

Garland made the AL All-Star team and finished sixth in the Cy Young vote in 2005. He allowed just four earned runs in 16 innings over a pair of postseason starts.

He had a similarly fantastic stretch from late June through the month of July, but he perhaps never looked as good as he did during this electric start to the season.

After tossing these back-to-back shutouts, Garland only went the distance once more during the 2005 regular season, in his first start of September against these same Tigers. He obviously was one of the four consecutive complete games against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS, but he allowed two runs in that game.

White Sox starting pitching was phenomenal in 2005, and Garland was no exception. This was Garland at his best.


What else?

— The play of the game in this 8-0 White Sox rout came courtesy of “Come On” Timo Perez, who laid down a suicide squeeze with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third inning. Tigers starter Wil Ledezma got himself in a real jam after getting two of the first three hitters of the inning out. He hit Paul Konerko with a pitch and walked Aaron Rowand to load the bases. Perez followed with a perfectly executed bunt down the first-base line, catching the Tigers off guard and bringing in the White Sox second run of the afternoon.


Before that crazy play, Perez used a bunt to help bring home the White Sox first run. In the second inning, a sacrifice bunt followed up a no-out balk that advanced Rowand to second. Perez moved him up another 90 feet, and Rowand scored on Joe Crede’s sacrifice fly.

— Perez’s May 1, 2005, excellence wasn’t limited to bunts. He also homered. At this point, I can only assume 2005 ended with Timo Perez as the American League MVP.


— The benches cleared in the fourth inning. As mentioned, Konerko was plunked in the third, and after two quick outs, a pitch got away from Garland and flew behind Rondell White. White was not pleased and started walking toward the mound with bat in hand. Everyone left their respective dugout and stood around on the field, as most baseball dust ups go. Hawk Harrelson: “What is it, Rondell? Our guy gets drilled and you can't get hit?”

— All apologies to Pedro Lopez, but who is Pedro Lopez? This was the major league debut for the White Sox infielder and one of the two major league games he played in in 2005. He continued the trend of solid performances from the White Sox bench, with a hit, a run and an RBI in this game. But the majority of his 2005 was spent in the minor leagues. Those two games were the only big league action he saw with the White Sox. He returned to the majors two years later as a Cincinnati Red, getting 45 at-bats in 14 games.

— Lopez wearing No. 62 instantly brought Jose Quintana to mind, but Quintana is one of a whopping six players to wear that jersey number since Lopez did in 2005: Ehren Wassermann, Bret Prinz, Jack Egbert, Eduardo Escobar, Quintana and Dustin Garneau.

— Ledezma balked twice in this game and five times in his career. The record for the most balks in a single season belongs to Dave Stewart, who had 16 of them in 1988. The record for the most balks in a career belongs to one-time White Sox hurler Steve Carlton, who got charged with 90!

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 26, 2005: The White Sox and A’s traded back-to-back four-run innings, with the South Siders on top by three heading into the bottom of the seventh. But Oakland’s bats produced five runs in their final two trips to the plate against Mark Buehrle, Damaso Marte and Luis Vizcaino. White Sox lose, 9-7, fall to 16-5.

April 27, 2005: Konerko drove in a run in the first inning, but it was all the White Sox got across the plate. The A’s tied the game against Freddy Garcia in the fourth and got a walk-off single from Marco Scutaro in the ninth to grab a series win. White Sox lose, 2-1, fall to 16-6.

April 29, 2005: Down a run in the bottom of the ninth, the White Sox rallied against Troy Percival, getting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Rowand to force extras. But a Nook Logan triple off Shingo Takatsu in the 11th broke the tie. White Sox lose, 3-2, fall to 16-7.

April 30, 2005: The White Sox snapped a three-game losing streak with a three-run seventh inning. Crede, Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi all drove in runs in that frame to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. White Sox win, 4-3, improve to 17-7.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Saturday, when you can catch the May 4, 2005, game against the Royals, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Crede and A.J. Pierzynski both leave the yard in this one.

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Olympic gold medalist Ryan Held details his long road to White Sox fandom

Olympic gold medalist Ryan Held details his long road to White Sox fandom

After wearing a Ryan Arcidiacono jersey at a swim meet earlier this year, Olympic swimmer and Springfield resident Ryan Held appeared on the Bulls Talk podcast to talk about his fandom.

But he's not just a Bulls fan. He also cheers for the White Sox. His path to becoming a Sox fan was one based on trial and error. 

"Being in Springfield, (Illinois, where Held resides) we're only an hour and a half away from St. Louis," Held said. "So growing up, we went to a lot of Cardinals games. It was probably only my senior year in high school, end of my high school career, that we went up to Chicago. We went to Cubs games and everything, and then this past summer of 2019, I was talking to my parents and I said 'Hey, why don't we ever go to a Sox game?' And they were like, 'Well, I don't know, we just never have,' and so we went up to a Sox game, went to this little restaurant called Turtle's Bar and Grill, right across the street, had an absolute blast.

"Went to the game, had an absolute blast, and it was like, 'Oh man, this is awesome.' Because everyone's a Cubs fan. People who aren't even from Chicago are Cubs fans. They're not true fans. But Sox fans are live, breathe and die Southside baseball. And I like that commitment to the team way more. And ever since then, I was like, 'I don't want to support the other team more. I don't want to support the other state and the Cardinals, I want to support my home state of Illinois and the White Sox.'"

Held is on board with the White Sox 2020 sloan, "Change the Game." He tweets about the Sox and Bulls regularly, and said he tries to watch every game he can, even while training for the Olympic Games.

He talked about what he was looking forward to seeing out of the Sox in the upcoming 2020 season. 

"I wanted to see Tim Anderson just go crazy again. He was one of the players I remembered doing really well in the games I watched. And he's from Tuscaloosa, Alabama," he said. "I feel like I've had this unknowing Sox fandom over my shoulder. Because I went to school in Raleigh, North Carolina, where they have the Winston-Salem Dash, which is a Sox affiliate, and they have the Charlotte Knights, which is a Sox affiliate. And then I moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama which is just outside of Birmingham, and the Barons are another Sox affiliate.

"So I feel like the universe was pointing me in this direction to become a Sox fan."

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