Up until Jake Burger collapsed down the first base line with an Achilles injury, Michael Kopech figured to have the story of the day after throwing down in his spring debut at Camelback Ranch on Monday.
It only took four pitches to get a sense of Kopech’s stuff. He made young Boog Powell look like the old Boog Powell, if the latter stepped in the box yesterday at the age of 76. Kopech threw four fastballs over the course of 50 seconds. Powell took the first, then swung through the next three, the last of which registered at 101 mph. Here’s what 101 looks like:
Don’t blink or you’ll miss @MichaelKopech5’s 🔥🔥🔥. pic.twitter.com/XXAzCb24ZX
— MLB (@MLB) February 26, 2018
That was the first of three strikeouts on the day. He blew a full-count fastball past Matt Olson to end the first inning, then struck out Brandon Moss on more high heat in the second.
Kopech wasn’t perfect. Stephen Piscotty redirected a full-count fastball to the base of the wall in right field with two outs in the first, and Chad Pinder lined a rolling 1-1 slider to left for a sharp single in the second. Kevan Smith gunned down Pinder from his knees with help from a great Tyler Saladino tag, erasing the runner and helping Kopech limit his work to 35 pitches on the day.
When watching hitters struggle to keep up with Kopech’s heat, you can see why a changeup would be an effective safeguard against those who start cheating. But Kopech throws so hard that it’s hard to immediately identify a changeup that looks like another pitcher’s two-seamer, especially with no radar gun. I didn’t know how many I should look for until Kopech’s postgame commentss:
“I felt like it was pretty good,” Kopech said. “I got behind in the count a couple times, and it gave me an opportunity to really work on my changeup and offspeed pitches. It helped me really focus on staying behind it and getting a strike with the pitch. I feel like it was a productive pitch, and I was OK with it.”
Asked how he thought hitters reacted, Kopech said: “I feel like I got the reaction I wanted. A couple got away from me. I threw three for a called strike, two were swung over and one was fouled off, so I got a few strikes out of it. I feel comfortable with it and taking it into my next outing.”
Looking back at the tape, I could find seven of them, most of them as a way to get back into the count. Here’s one example of a 1-0 changeup on Moss.
Michael Kopech striking out Brandon Moss with an off-speed pitch (changeup?) and two fastballs pic.twitter.com/Akd6GfhtVU
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) February 26, 2018
That’s not a terrific location to Moss, but Kopech’s velocity might allow him to get away with more mistakes than usual on the pitch if hitters are using fastball counts to cheat. It’s hard to make definitive statements about its quality at this juncture, but that’s beside the point at this juncture.
What’s more important is Kopech simply throwing his worst pitch 20 percent of the time and behind in the count. That means he’s taking the organization’s challenge seriously, intent on giving Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria fewer excuses for keeping him down in Charlotte.
At the moment, Renteria is only in the praise business:
“I (managed) [Josh] Beckett a few years ago in the minor leagues (and they have) kind of a similar demeanor, in terms of bulldoggish when (Kopech) gets on the mound.