Michael Kopech had quite the encore.
In his first start since taking a perfect game into the sixth inning, the Chicago White Sox right-hander retired the first 12 batters he faced Wednesday against the Cleveland Guardians.
Josh Naylor singled to left-center leading off the fifth for the Guardians’ first hit. Kopech allowed two hits and one walk and struck out nine in seven innings, pitching the Sox to a 6-0 victory in front of 17,767 at Progressive Field.
“I’m back to trusting my stuff,” Kopech said. “The first few starts of the season I was kind of searching, trying to feel what it felt like to throw my stuff with confidence again. Now I feel everything working out front. I have good life on my stuff. The results are showing up.”
Kopech and relievers Reynaldo López and Jimmy Lambert combined for a four-hitter.
“He was in complete control of himself,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “He was focused, he was controlling the strike zone.
“He’s tapping into his potential. It has nothing to do with the stuff. It has everything to do with the focus, the attention to detail, his mound presence.”
The Sox built a cushion for Kopech early, scoring five runs in the fourth to take two of three in the series.
Even though they are nine games under .500 (21-30), the Sox are only 5½ games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. The Sox have won seven of nine, with starting pitching playing a major role.
“I’m out there having fun calling pitches,” catcher Seby Zavala said. “With all of our starters, our bullpen, our whole staff right now is doing what they need to do. When they’re putting the ball where they want and we’re calling it, it just makes it fun and easier on us.”
Kopech and Kendall Graveman combined for a one-hitter in the 2-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field. The only hit was a broken-bat single by Michael Massey with one out in the sixth. Kopech struck out 10 and didn’t allow a walk in that brilliant eight-inning outing.
He continued that command Wednesday, striking out eight of the first 12 batters.
“The last one, Seby talked to me about a game plan with how we were going to use my stuff beforehand. We stuck to that the whole game,” Kopech said. “We went into this one with a similar game plan and how we were going to attack each hitter. More catch the ball and throw the ball, knowing what we were going to do rather than sitting out there and searching and staring the whole time.
“That’s just how things go when they are clicking.”
Naylor broke his bat on a 2-1 pitch and lofted a single for the first Cleveland hit.
A bug in his left eye momentarily slowed Kopech in the sixth, but he recovered to strike out pinch hitter David Fry.
“I still don’t know where that pitch was that I threw,” Kopech said. “It was a strike, so it’s good. Seby came out and actually blew in my eye and got the bug out. Good batterymate right there.”
While even the bug couldn’t affect Kopech’s control, the Sox offense took advantage of walks in the third and fourth. Clint Frazier, starting in center field with Luis Robert Jr. resting after leaving Tuesday’s game with tightness in his right hip and quadriceps, led off the third with a walk and scored on a Tim Anderson single.
Yoán Moncada walked to spark the five-run fourth. Romy Gonzalez had a two-run double and Jake Burger and Zavala hit sacrifice flies.
The Sox found a way to produce while finishing with four hits.
“Walks are really important,” Grifol said. “Not only do they get the pitch count up but they put pressure on the pitcher and defense. And obviously situational hitting. We have the ability to move runners via a long fly ball, ground ball, sacrifice fly, up and down that lineup.
“Guys can hit the baseball over the wall, so I don’t want guys just giving themselves up hitting a ground ball to the second baseman. I want guys driving the ball and get guys over to the deep part of the outfield somewhere. They were focused on that today.”
And Kopech was focused throughout.
“I’m proud of him,” Grifol said. “I’m proud of the way he stayed under control, the way he was focused even when he gave up the base hit. He attacked the strike zone, induced a couple of ground balls (in the fifth), one was a double play. Just a great performance.”
Luis Robert update
Robert missed just his second game this season. Asked Wednesday if he expects to be back in a few days, he said: “Tomorrow. I’m good.”
Robert said the injury occurred when going after José Ramírez’s triple in the eighth Tuesday.
“It was when I slid,” he said through an interpreter. “It wasn’t pain or anything. It was more of a cramp.”
The Sox begin a four-game series Thursday in Detroit.
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