With Garrett Crochet already a lock for the White Sox bullpen in 2021 after making six regular-season appearances and one postseason appearance out of the ‘pen, it appears that Michael Kopech is heading to the bullpen for the time being as they ease him back into a starter’s role down the line.
“I think more than likely Michael will be used in situations where he’ll pitch more (than just one inning at a time),” said Tony La Russa this past weekend. “If it’s just one, that’s fine, he’ll come back sooner. But would not hesitate, with his starter arsenal.”
After Lance Lynn tossed two and two-thirds of scoreless baseball on Tuesday, it was Michael Kopech who came out of the bullpen to open the fourth inning for the White Sox. Kopech was absolutely lights out, retiring the Padres in short-order. If you went to the bathroom or grab something to drink, you might have missed the inning, that’s how quickly it went.
Kopech retired catcher Austin Nola on a ground ball to third base, struck out Jorge Mateo, and then induced an easy fly out against Ivan Castillo. Kopech’s first pitch since his last Cactus League start was a 98 mph fastball that went for a called strike against Austin Nola, but it was his last pitch to Nola that was more impressive. Kopech ended the Nola at-bat with a 78 mph curveball that Nola rolled over and was put away 5-3 for the first out. Sandwiched in between the 98 mph heater and 78 mph curveball was an 87 mph slider that went for a called strike as well.
“I’ve had a mindset in the past of trying to make my pitches better than they are,” Kopech said. “Trying to make a slider a really nasty strikeout slider and make them swing at that. Or a curveball that’s a really great breaker in the dirt that’s going to have someone come out of their shoes, rather than just knowing what I do well and just trying to throw strikes with it, which is kind of the approach today. Just using the pitches that I have and trying to throw strikes with it, and if they can hit it, they can hit it.”
Garrett Crochet, who followed Kopech in the fifth inning, was also mixing things up when it came to his arsenal, starting CJ Abrams with a slider down and away. Abrams walked to open the frame, but Crochet struck out Trent Grisham the following at-bat. Crochet would walk Manny Machado before getting veteran Eric Hosmer to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Kopech, a prospect that came into the majors in September of 2018 with a fireballer reputation, threw his fastball 62.3 percent of the time in 2018 before his season was ended with a UCL injury, one that has kept him off the mound (coupled with opting out of the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus Pandemic) for over 900 days when it comes to regular-season baseball.
Crochet was billed as a hard-throwing southpaw coming out of Tennessee in June’s MLB Draft and lived up to that reputation this past summer when he joined the White Sox bullpen in September. Crochet threw his heater 84.7 percent of the time with the fastball clocking in at a sizzling average of 100.2 mph.
While the fastballs of Kopech and Crochet lack nothing in the velocity department, both have expressed a desire to become more complete pitchers in regards to their repertoire, and both plan to be staples in the starting rotation in Chicago in the near future. However, both Kopech and Crochet have said that they’re perfectly fine with coming out of the bullpen in 2021. Kopech is working on dominating his inning out of the bullpen in 2021 as opposed to planning for an entire start where he would be expected to log five-plus innings.
“I’m not setting up guys to have to face them two or three times per game,” Kopech said. “I’m not necessarily having to set up guys for the next guy, and so on and so on. I’m going out there with my best stuff every time and trying to throw that. So that’s really exciting to me, to not have to strategically plan for the whole game and really just do my best, pitch to pitch. It was fun today, but moving forward it will probably be more fun.”
Crochet and Kopech have been paired together as catch partners this spring, furthering their bond beyond just their mesmerizing fastballs, and Michael Kopech sees Crochet as a big part of the future in Chicago.
“That guy is nasty, man,” Kopech said of Crochet. “I don’t know what to say about him other than I am very, very impressed by him. … He has more than just a fastball. People already know that. The changeup is just as good. He’s going to be part of the future of this team, that is for sure. Having him in our bullpen and eventually as a starter is going to be a huge step for us. He’s exciting to watch, and I can’t wait for everyone to see what we’re seeing.”
As for Crochet, he’s just glad that he was paired up with Kopech both as catch partners, and in the bullpen this season.
“I’m thankful now I’m able to play catch with him and take advice from him day after day,” Crochet said of Kopech. “The guy is an incredibly hard worker, and I’m definitely lucky I got paired up with him.”
The two hard-tossing youngsters are going to be a problem for opposing lineups out of an absolutely stacked White Sox bullpen in 2021, and one day in the White Sox rotation.
In the meantime?
Kopech and Crochet are just looking to, “throw hard and be jacked.”