Now in Chisox ‘Pen, Kopech Makes Debut After 2020 Opt-Out

Michael Kopech is getting used to his new relief role with the Chicago White Sox.

Judging by his first Cactus League appearance, it looks like he’s going to be just fine.

The talented right-hander worked a perfect fourth inning Tuesday against San Diego. It was his first game since he opted out of the pandemic-shortened season for a variety of reasons, including concerns about his mental health.

“It’s been a while, obviously,” Kopech said. “But it just felt good to kind of knock some rust off and get back out there and compete.”

The 24-year-old Kopech, one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, was a starter coming up through the minors and likely will return to Chicago’s rotation at some point. But he is expected to begin the year in the White Sox bullpen.

Part of his spring training work involves getting up to speed when it comes to life as a reliever. He worked out of the stretch against the Padres.

“If I am going to be throwing out of the bullpen for part of this year at least and maybe throughout the season, then I need to be a guy that’s ready to compete with runners in scoring position,” he said.

In Kopech and left-hander Garrett Crochet, the White Sox have a couple of 100-mph arms in front of closer Liam Hendriks. Crochet came in after Kopech and also worked a scoreless inning against the Padres.

“Not too long ago there weren’t that many guys that threw 100 miles per hour in baseball, and we got a handful of them in our bullpen,” Kopech said. “It’s just crazy to think about, but it’s a lot of fun, the expectations that we have for ourselves.”

BRITTON SETBACK

New York Yankees left-hander Zack Britton needs surgery to remove a bone chip from his pitching elbow and seems certain to miss the start of the season. The reliever will return to New York on Wednesday.

“As far as timetables and stuff like that, we’ll have more in the coming day or two days,” manager Aaron Boone said.

Boone said Britton’s ulnar collateral ligament was not suspected of being hurt, an injury that if diagnosed could lead to Tommy John surgery. Boone said Britton felt soreness Sunday night following a bullpen session and had an MRI of his elbow on Monday.