Michael Kopech is headed back to the Chicago White Sox bullpen — but he’ll return to the rotation in 2024: ‘He’s a starter’

Saturday would have been Michael Kopech’s turn in the rotation. Instead, he’s headed back to the bullpen.

The Chicago White Sox announced the decision ahead of Friday’s 6-0 victory in the series opener against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Kopech said he looks at the move as an “opportunity to work on some things mentally and physically.”

“I’ve gone down there before,” Kopech said before the game. “I know that it’s a little different preparing to come into that game than it is as a starter. But you don’t have a whole lot of time to think or overthink.

“It’s more get out there and get after it type of thing. We think that will serve me well at this point. It’s an opportunity I’m trying my best to embrace. I’ve done it before so it’s not completely new, but it is something I haven’t done in a couple of years. So I’m looking forward to that.”

The Sox got a solid outing Friday from Mike Clevinger in the victory. He allowed three hits and struck out seven in seven scoreless innings.

The Sox didn’t have a hit until the seventh when Luis Robert Jr. doubled to left with one out against Tigers starter Reese Olson. Yoán Moncada broke the scoreless tie with a two-out, two-run homer to left. It was Moncada’s third straight game with a home run.

Moncada added an RBI single during a four-run eighth inning.

Kopech did not get in Friday’s game.

Kopech, 27, is 5-12 with a 5.16 ERA in 26 starts. Control has been an issue. He has 129 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings but an American League-leading 89 walks.

“The last few outings his mechanics have been something that he’s been battling a little bit,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “So just going to back him off now and not have to go a lot of pitches, innings, we’re just going to play it inning by inning.

“If he goes out there and has a good clean inning and he feels good, we might throw him out there for the second. Other than that, we’re going to be looking for small wins here toward the end and build him up for 2024.”

Grifol made clear the plan is for Kopech to be a starter in 2024.

“He’s a starter,” Grifol said. “He’s going to be a starter.”

And Kopech would like to be a starter next season.

“I’ve always said I would like to be a starter,” Kopech said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that. But at the end of the day, I’m a … major-league pitcher, and whatever innings or inning I’m throwing doesn’t change that fact. I’m extremely grateful to be in the position I’m in.”

Kopech spent most of 2021 in the bullpen after missing 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and opting out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The right-hander went 3-3 with a 3.90 ERA in 40 relief outings in ‘21. He also made four starts.

Kopech returned to a full-time starting role last season and went 5-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 25 starts.

Kopech showed some signs of dominance this season, such as when he allowed one hit in eight innings against the Kansas City Royals on May 19 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

But his longest outing in his last five starts was 4 1/3 innings. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings Sunday against the Tigers, allowing two runs on one hit with five walks and two strikeouts. He threw 44 pitches with only 16 strikes.

José Ureña, who signed a minor-league contract with the Sox on Aug. 6, is in line to start Saturday. As for Kopech’s work out of the bullpen, the Sox will be looking in a number of areas.

“It’s the mechanical part of it and him feeling comfortable and confident and just toeing the rubber,” Grifol said. “All I want him to do is finish the season healthy and in the right frame of mind, mechanically sound and just start building for 2024.”

Kopech is focused on getting “back to competing.”

“A lot of (this season) can be overdoing something, whether it be overthinking, overworking on a specific thing,” Kopech said. “At the end of the day, the game is to throw strikes and get outs.

“I’m going to do my best to get back to that.”


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