GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech didn’t have any trouble getting back up to speed after 18 months away from the mound.
“Yeah, I might have been a little geeked,” the Chicago White Sox right-hander said Tuesday.
Kopech threw 11 pitches against the Texas Rangers in Cactus League play — and six of them reached 100 mph.
It was the 23-year-old’s first game action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2018.
“The first two pitches, I felt out of control,” Kopech said. “By the third pitch, I took a breath and settled back in. But I still had quite a bit of adrenaline going.”
“I felt really good, I was able to command my fastball after those first two, and aside from that, just go out there and get an inning under my belt,” he said.
Kopech, who made four starts in 2018 before being sidelined, was a key part of the five-player deal that sent pitcher Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox after the 2016 season. Third baseman Yoan Moncada has already made his presence felt, and Kopech was also expected to be a big part of the Chicago rebuild.
Tuesday’s outing showed why. He retired Eli White and Isiah Kiner-Falefa on groundouts, and struck out Greg Bird looking on a 101 mph heater to complete his outing.
Kopech then went to the Chicago bullpen to throw 10 more pitches.
“I don’t think I’m typically going to be throwing as hard as I did today,” Kopech said. “I’m proud of it, I’m excited, but I’m not going to try to be a power pitcher.”
“It feels nice to be able to compete again. Eighteen months out, I feel like I have a chance to compete the way that I like to,” he said.
Kopech’s next spring appearance is scheduled for Sunday against the Seattle Mariners, but he will have to wait for a while before he returns to the White Sox’s rotation.
If all goes well, he figures to be on the South Side by May, but his innings will still be monitored closely in his first full season following arm surgery.
“His competitiveness is still there,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “The biggest thing for him is he understands there is a process, there are certain steps he’s going to take to put himself in as good a position as possible. Again, the anxiousness of wanting to rush it all, you got to be able to control it, and I think he’s managing it very well.”
Kopech is taking everything in stride.
“It’s not really up to me,” he said. “They have a plan in mind. Right now I’m just going to do what I do.”
For now, he’s happy with clearing a big hurdle.
“I feel like I’m a part of the team again. When you’re not competing, a lot of times you feel more like a fan. It’s a good feeling,” he said.
2B Nick Madrigal said he’s OK after being hit above the left eye with a bad-hop grounder on Monday. The team’s top draft pick in 2018 is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. He sat out Tuesday’s game but the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. “It’s a little sore, but I feel good. The swelling has gone down,” he said. “Lucky that it didn’t hit my eye, I was thankful for that. Just one of those plays, part of the game.”