GLENDALE, Ariz. — Everything is going according to plan for Michael Kopech.
Except for the part where he almost got drilled in the face with a line drive.
Kopech faced a scary comebacker off the bat of Matt Skole during live batting practice on Friday at Camelback Ranch. One that forced him to get out of the way and one that, according to Kopech, might have even grazed his ear.
It's not the sight anyone wants to see for a pitcher who is just now returning from a lengthy recovery after Tommy John surgery and hasn't thrown in a game above instructional league since September 2018.
But, hey, you want to get back in the swing of things? This is what you get.
"I haven’t seen that kind of real-time feedback in a long time and that’s about as real-time as it gets," Kopech said with a chuckle after practice. "That’s what you want to experience, to see if you can get somebody or if he can get you. And he got me."
Fortunately for the White Sox, Skole didn't "get" Kopech any worse.
Kopech is an important part of the team's long-term plans and while the exact specifics of the plan for Kopech this season haven't been formally announced, it sounds like there's a good grasp on them, per manager Rick Renteria, though the skipper wouldn't reveal exactly where Kopech will begin the 2020 regular season.
"I think that we are very optimistic about where he’s at," Renteria said. "I think that the plan that the organization has in terms of how we want to start him off is probably pretty consistent in terms of where he’ll be. And then we will allow him to continue to pitch and get some innings under his belt. And I’m sure, first year after coming from the surgery, that there are parameters I’m sure we want to stay within.
"It will be still a very optimistically guarded approach to where he’s at."
So, no, we still don't know whether Kopech will begin the campaign pitching in the big leagues or at Triple-A Charlotte in an effort to manage his workload in his first year back on the mound.
Though the competitor in him probably wants to be on that 26-man roster for the March 26 opener at Guaranteed Rate Field, Kopech is willing to do whatever is necessary for him to be a part of a playoff push, pitching in meaningful games down the stretch.
"At the end of the day, it’s me trying to fit into a plan to make the team better collectively. And if that’s not starting with the team right away, then I’m OK with that, too," Kopech said. "I just need to do what’s the best interest of me and the team.
"Ultimately, my goal is to be able to go deep into games for 30 starts a season. Now obviously, I haven’t had the experience of doing that to the extent that I want to, especially at the big league level. But I think that’s the point of what my entire rehab process was. To build me up to where I’m going to be able to take that kind of workload."
The White Sox have been adamant about their vision that Kopech will soon be an integral part of their rotation. For those wondering if this slow-play has anything to do with health concerns from his surgery, it doesn't. He's healthy and pitching without restriction. But even before the procedure, the most innings he had thrown in a season were the 134.1 he logged in 2017, so it's understandable that the White Sox wouldn't want to overtax his arm.
The plan for spring training is also slow-moving, with Kopech still unsure when he's going to get into Cactus League action, which begins on Saturday.
"Right now, we have a plan of when I’m going to throw live BPs and when I’m going to throw bullpens. The question mark is still about when I’m getting into a game. But I think I have a plan to go at the beginning of March, around there anyway. I’m just trying to work my way up to that.
"It’s been pretty much day to day. We’re trying to really focus on spring right now and make sure my workload gets managed properly. And then by the time we get to the season, hopefully I’m ready to break with a team, whether it’s Charlotte or Chicago."
Every detail of the plan might not be public knowledge. But the plan is in place and seems to be running smoothly.
Though it probably wouldn't hurt to cut down on the number of liners aimed at Kopech's face...