There's still no update on when Michael Kopech might be pitching again for the Chicago White Sox, but the team views his continued recovery as progress from the hamstring injury he suffered late last month.
The fireballing reliever took an awkward fall on the mound in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, hobbling to the dugout shortly thereafter. It turned out to be a hamstring strain, something the White Sox described as not being a long-term concern.
Kopech threw a bullpen session Tuesday, with manager Tony La Russa calling it an "important day" for the right-hander. A day later, La Russa recapped that "next major test."
"I think there were a lot of positives to it. I still don't think that his leg is 100-percent comfortable with some of the maneuvers that you have to do in your delivery, especially maybe even running," La Russa said. "So (he's) improving but still not a green light to where we think we know when he'll actually pitch again."
Everything's relative, of course, so Kopech's continued absence without a firm return date simultaneously strikes as much better than things could have been — considering the White Sox horrific injury luck this season — and an increasingly lengthy time for the team to be without one of its most impressive pitchers of the 2021 campaign.
It's been long enough of a stay on the 10-day injured list to wonder if the recovery is taking longer than initially anticipated.
"The hamstrings are tricky," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday. "Quite frankly, the moment he went down, I thought it was something far worse than whatever we're going to wind up dealing with here, a three- or five-week or whatever hamstring strain.
"He feels good. There's just one little spot in his delivery where he feels it a little bit, and we're not going to mess around. Until he 100 percent feels nothing in his delivery, we're just going to continue to treat and progress until we get there.
"But he's in a good spot. There’s no long-term concern here. It’s just a matter of getting him 100 percent before we start pushing him and putting him back in games."
An absence of any length for Kopech gets a bit of a brighter spotlight considering he missed the entirety of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the first due to recovery from Tommy John surgery and the second due to personal reasons.
But in his return to the mound this season, he's been excellent as a versatile weapon for La Russa, with a 1.72 ERA in 31.1 innings. He's pitched multiple innings at a time out of the bullpen and made multiple spot starts in doubleheader games. The way La Russa has deployed Kopech could be a preview of the way the manager plans to use the pitcher during the postseason, when bullpens, and specifically weapons that can cover multiple innings, are utilized heavily.
The White Sox said during spring training that they hoped to find "creative" ways to use Kopech this season and make sure that, after two years without a major league workload of any kind, he would be at full strength for the team's most important games in September and October. While an injured-list stint was obviously not part of those plans, Hahn admitted last week that there could be a silver lining of sorts in helping make sure that Kopech is not out of gas come the end of the campaign.
In the meantime, the White Sox will be forced to wait for Kopech to make a full recovery before they can make any further plans about how they'll utilize him in chasing a championship in 2021 and having him as a key part of their rotation in 2022 and beyond.