In the opener of this series against the Cardinals on Monday, Tony La Russa used Michael Kopech to hold a four-run lead over the final two innings, which he did without incident.
A day later, La Russa had a six-run lead with three innings to play, so he could use the final three innings to give some scufflers some work, during which Codi Heuer, Evan Marshall and Garrett Crochet combined to generate two whiffs over 44 pitches. The services of Liam Hendriks were ultimately required.
Swinging strikes might not be the best metric for an individual relief appearances, especially when throwing strikes and making the Cardinals hit their way takes precedent. Heuer gave up a run when a leadoff double came around to score, but at the point of the game where a run an inning doesn’t hurt. Marshall induced three grounders to the left side, the weakest of which turned into a single, and the hardest of which erased that single with a double play.
As for Crochet, he was denied a backwards K on a 3-2 pitch, but only because Joe West called a clear ball a strike earlier in the count. It wasn’t an inspiring outing, at a time where the White Sox could use a couple of inspiring performances in a row.
Using Kopech as a one-man bullpen isn’t a bad use of his talents, especially if the other options of picking up an inning are wobbling, and the Sox may have the opportunity to pursue a more specific role as early as next week. After this afternoon’s finale with St. Louis and a four-game set at home against Baltimore, the White Sox play a Memorial Day doubleheader against Cleveland, which Kopech would be rested for so long as he sees minimal action between now and Monday.
The open-ended handling of Kopech has worked out beautifully thus far. He’s got a 1.78 ERA with 45 strikeouts against 30 baserunners over 30⅓ innings. The White Sox are 3-0 when he starts, and 5-5 in the other games he’s seen. Four of those five losses are by one run, and the other by two. He’s on track to end up with 105 innings pitched if his current workload can be extrapolated over the rest of the season, an eminently reasonable number after a two-year layoff. I think everybody involved would take the rest of the line as well:
The question is whether the White Sox can resist being pulled in one direction after the doubleheader passes and the schedule clears. At one end, every game where Kopech handles medium-to-high-leverage innings is one that improves the White Sox’s chances while simplifying future situations for everybody else. On the other end, the mild side discomfort that Lucas Giolito pitched through suggests the White Sox shouldn’t confine him to short relief. Nobody on the 40-man roster at Charlotte looks like a great candidate for starts …
- Jonathan Stiever: 4 G, 13 IP, 14 H, 7 BB, 15 K, 4.15 ERA
- Reynaldo López: 3 G, 11 IP, 15 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 6.55 ERA
- Jimmy Lambert: 4 G, 8.2 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 10 K, 9.35 ERA
… and there’s nobody at Charlotte particularly suited for rotating in and out of the bullpen if the Sox wanted to accommodate an opener, unless Mike Wright is waiting to be the next KBO success story. He’s got 24 strikeouts to six walks and a 2.81 ERA over 16 innings thus far, but it’s hard to square up those numbers against how he looked in spring training.
When you look at the lack of reinforcements, I picture Kopech standing between two dams and using his wingspan to plug a hole in each. He’s in an ideal situation where he can buy struggling relievers time on one side, and get a seven-inning game past the halfway point on the other. The perfect White Sox team is one where Kopech can stay there all season, but normal injury luck says the Sox should be prepared for one of those walls to buckle. There’s no right course, except to appreciate the idea that Kopech is in a position to succeed in either one.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
So should Kopech be in the rotation for the playoffs? With Cease and Rodon looking like their success could be sustainable, Tony and Katz will have some interesting decisions to make come playoff time (with as bad as the division is, I don’t see the Sox not winning the Central). Keuchel looks like he could be the odd man out for a playoff start as things stand now. And if Kopech is stretched out enough to start in October, things could get very interesting.
If the playoffs started tomorrow, I have to think the four are Giolito, Lynn, Rodón, and Keuchel. Cease and Keuchel have both been inconsistent this season, but Keuchel’s track record suggests he’s the better bet at the moment. But it’s very easy to see Cease overtaking him soon. Either way, I don’t think Kopech is in the playoff rotation without an injury. And that’s a great thing. What a weapon to have coming out of the bullpen, especially as a mid-game bridge.
I agree with the Kopech assessment. I remember David Price coming out of the pen for the Rays in 2008 and just being dominant.
Does it really matter who starts in the post season? Leashes are so short, they starter is basically the manager’s best guess at who will succeed on any given day, but almost everyone will be replaced at the first sign of trouble. So whether Kopech pitches three innings as a starter or relieves a trouble started or closes out a close game over multiple innings, he’ll be asked to do the same thing in the postseason as the regular season – get 6-12 outs without losing the game.
Not sure if its coming from sox brass or TLR but one point of credit due is their usage of Kopech this year has been borderline perfect. They have done a very good job of monitoring his innings and letting him open DH games has gotten him the feel of starting mlb games. Dont change a thing.
Come playoff time though all bets are off and if he is a top 4 starting pitcher option on the roster you take your shot.
The Sox could really use a right handed reliever of some kind via trade before tbe deadline. I’m not entirely sold on them acquiring an OF with Engel coming back. Not saying they don’t need one, but it could be crowded once Eloy and Robert are due back.
The lack of player development is again showing its ugliness. First in organizational OF depth and now with starting pitching. Lambert, Lopez and Stiever have all taken steps back with no others stepping up. Will be interesting to see if they can get back on track.
relievers at the deadline the last couple years were a dime a dozen, they wont have to much trouble snagging one if they need one at that point
They might end up needing bullpen help at the deadline, but that’s a deadline day (or close to it) decision. At this point, Marshall, Heuer, and Foster are as good of bets as any random RHP outside of the top of the market. And I doubt they are going to shell out the prospects for a top of the market arm.
Any updates on Jace Fry recently? His timetable projected he’d be about ready for a rehap assignment in early June and it looks more and more like Crochet could stand to spend some time in AAA.
The pitcher deep dive I’d like to read is on Codi Heuer – how much of his performance has been bad luck (sky high BABIP, drastically lower walk/9) versus being worse (higher fly ball %, higher hard hit %, higher HR/9).
Is he just grooving it in the zone too much?
That’s what it looks like based on the baseball savant heat map. His sinker is just peppering the middle of the zone away to right handers. I’m no expert but that doesn’t seem like the ideal location for a sinker.