Bullpen roles coming into focus for Chicago White Sox, with Michael Kopech among those providing strong relief

Momentum had started slipping away from the Chicago White Sox.

They entered the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Guardians with a three-run lead after reliever Jordan Leasure escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam without allowing a run.

But the Guardians struck for two with two outs in the eighth against John Brebbia when José Ramírez and Josh Naylor hit back-to-back homers.

The Sox needed four outs. And Michael Kopech delivered to secure the 3-2 victory.

“I think the guys kind of feed off each other down there,” Kopech said of the bullpen after the win. “Seeing somebody going in and getting out of a tough situation like Leasure did (Thursday), you want to keep the momentum going.

“Likewise with Brebbia (Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays), came in, got out of a big situation (in the seventh), punched out the side (in the eighth). That momentum builds and it’s kind of contagious. Things are going well for us as a group, they are going well for us individually as well. Gaining some momentum. It’s a lot more fun to pitch in situations where you feel the momentum is in your hands.”

Kopech earned the saves Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field — throwing a combined 24 pitches in the two outings.

“I have a job to do when I come in,” Kopech said. “I don’t really want to tinker with anything. My main goal is to get ahead. If I can get ahead, I feel like I have an advantage.

“There’s times I put myself in a tough situation and fortunately, the past few have been pretty efficient for me. Hope to keep that going.”

Kopech has four saves and ranks third among American League relievers with 26 strikeouts.

Photos: Chicago White Sox 6, Cleveland Guardians 3

Sox relievers had a 2.00 ERA in the last seven games entering Friday as bullpen roles come more into focus.

“That takes a little time,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “Guys have to get used to pitching leverage. We have to get used to them and see where they are going to start to fit in. The good thing is we got Brebbia, we got Jordan, we got (Steven) Wilson.

“Those guys can pitch leverage prior to that ninth inning and obviously we like Kopech in the ninth inning. And what’s great about Kopech is that he knows how to get an out (in the eighth), sit down and go back out (for the ninth) because he’s been a starter. That’s tough sometimes for a reliever if they are not used to that.”

Brebbia handled the multiple-inning duties Wednesday against the Rays, entering with one out in the seventh and runners on first and second. He got Josh Lowe to hit a fly ball to right, where Gavin Sheets made a nice running catch. Sheets then threw to second to double off the runner, who had raced to third when the ball was in the air.

Brebbia returned for the eighth and struck out the side. Kopech induced a 4-6-3 double play in the ninth to complete the 4-1 victory.

Leasure made the big pitches Thursday in a high-leverage situation. He struck out the first two batters and induced a groundout to keep the Sox ahead 3-0.

“It’s probably one of the biggest moments you can have, to come out of that with no damage,” Leasure said. “It was pretty cool.”

The rookie has a 2.40 ERA in 16 appearances.

“He’s proven that he belongs here and that he’s going to have a long career,” Kopech said of Leasure. “Everyone is thoroughly impressed with him. Hope to see him in big moments like he was (Thursday) more and more often because he’s proven he can do it.”

Kopech is proving what he can do in late-game opportunities as well, converting four of five save chances.

“He’s been great,” starter Erick Fedde said. “I know it’s tough, he’s getting the most important outs of the game. We always say those three in the ninth are the hardest. He’s been doing great and he’s been doing multiple ups, getting outs in the eighth.

“It’s exceptional. I’m happy for him and I’m excited for him to get better and better.”

Kopech — who had prior relief experience and was moved from the rotation to the bullpen this season — said he has been “throwing each pitch with conviction.”

“I’m happy with the arsenal I have,” Kopech said. “I’ve kind of simplified things by going to the pen, but I like how I’m using it.”