Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech finds groove near the end of 2nd spring start against a powerful LA Dodgers lineup

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The lead-up to a season is filled with adjustments.

For Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech, the focus from his first start of the spring last week to his second centered on throwing all his pitches for strikes.

Kopech felt that with the exception of his cutter, he was able to do just that Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The slider ended up backing up a couple of times, but I still threw some good ones. Landed some curveballs, fastball was a little inconsistent today and that’s going to be a big part of my game, fastball command.

“Other than that, I was pretty comfortable with what I did. But I’ve got to throw more strikes.”

Kopech allowed three runs, two earned, on two hits in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out three, walked three and hit one batter.

Command was manager Pedro Grifol’s biggest takeaway from the outing.

“Struggled a little bit with command,” Grifol said Thursday. “He’d sit here and tell you the same thing. Got to pound the strike zone more and got to trust his stuff. He’s worked hard for this. Now he’s got to just let it go out there, have some fun and let his ability play. Because the work has been done.

“Just go out there and let it go.”

Kopech did find that control in the tail end of the start, beginning the third inning by striking out Chris Taylor swinging.

Max Muncy was up next and struck out swinging as well. That was the last batter of the day for Kopech during the 12-9 loss at Camelback Ranch.

“Kind of felt like I was starting to get my feet under me right about the time my outing was finishing,” Kopech said. “Never want it to be the third (inning) before you feel that way. It’s a spring training outing and that’s OK, but in season I want to make an adjustment much sooner than that, for sure.”

Kopech had a good test facing a loaded Dodgers lineup that featured Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman at the top of the order.

“You know the kind of lineup you’re going to face going in,” Kopech said. “Obviously I’d like to be a little bit more refined. But it’s still early. Go out there and try to attack with strikes instead of feeling like I’m kind of falling behind, fighting myself. Good lineup and it shows that when you don’t get ahead, what can happen. A good learning experience.”

Kopech said he’s OK with his stuff.

“I had a goal last season that I wanted to reshape my slider to where it would play a little harder and a little better off my fastball,” he said. “It’s starting to do that. It was 83-87 mph today, I would like it to be closer to 87.

“When I keep it down, it plays off my fastball pretty well. Happy with the shape of my pitches, but I have to be a little more consistent.”

As for the cutter, Kopech said it’s about “finding a way to not overdo it.”

“At times it’s there, then there’s times where it spins out of my hand like a backup slider,” Kopech said. “I’ll find some consistency with that.”

Kopech tossed two scoreless innings and struck out five in his first start on March 1 against the Cubs.

He began Wednesday’s outing with a walk to Betts. With Ohtani batting, he threw a wild pitch. Ohtani later reached on an infield hit, with Betts moving to third. Betts scored on a Freeman sacrifice fly to left field.

Kopech limited the damage with a strikeout and — following a walk — got a nice defensive play by second baseman Nicky Lopez on a grounder from James Outman for the final out.

Kopech walked and hit a batter with one out in the second. Ohtani had an RBI single during the two-run inning.

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“It’s always fun to face him,” Kopech said. “He’s got me a few times. I know him being a professional, I have to get ahead in the count for him not to have any leverage. Today the first at-bat I had a pretty good pitch 3-2 and he still got a good bat to it. Another one I fell behind and he hit another one up the middle.

“He’s a good hitter. You have to take every bit of leverage that you can. It would be nice to do that with all the hitters.”

Grifol has said it’s too soon to talk about the rotation, adding that the Sox are continuing to get Kopech “built up to be one of our starters.”

“Right now everybody is just competing,” Grifol said Wednesday. “We’re building him up.”

Added Kopech: “I’ve done both roles, I’ve enjoyed doing both, I’d like that, stretching out and being part of this rotation. But I want to be part of the team however I fit in.”

Kopech knows one of the keys to any outing is efficiency.

“It’s a process right now, with spring being about halfway through, we’re finding the adjustments that (we) need to make and hopefully will take into the season,” Kopech said.