Michael Kopech ‘disappointed’ at move to the Chicago White Sox bullpen but vows to ‘help in another way’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech started the 2023 home opener for the Chicago White Sox.

He’ll begin the 2024 season in the bullpen, general manager Chris Getz disclosed Thursday morning.

“It’s not my first choice where I want to be,” Kopech said. “I like starting, but I’ve had success in that (relief) role. And ultimately we are looking at what’s best for the team this year. If I can help us win games in the back of the game, I’m excited to do that.”

Given that he came in to camp looking to continue as a starter, Kopech was asked about the move.

“I’m disappointed. I think that I’ve had success there but it’s been a little too inconsistent,” he said. “I need to find some consistency there. That being said, there’s a window and I didn’t achieve it in that window. So now I have an opportunity to find success and help the team in another way.”

Kopech has a 7.71 ERA in three spring starts, allowing six earned runs in seven innings.

“Right now, it’s just been trying to find a little bit of a rhythm to be honest,” he said. “I’m not making any excuses for myself but just trying to get back to finding my legs after having another surgery this past offseason (removing a cyst from his right knee) and finding a rhythm in my mechanics and just being comfortable with the release point and little things like that.

“The results weren’t there this spring. I had some strikeouts, which is nice. But it wasn’t very efficient, which is the main result we are looking for.”

He has 10 strikeouts and six walks this spring.

“Attacking the zone is important regardless of where you’re pitching,” Getz said. “When you’re trying to navigate the early innings and your pitch count is raised, and although you’re getting some outs, you’re also perhaps getting some walks and just really raising a workload that we felt that we were going to run the risk of perhaps overtaxing our bullpen and the remainder of our pitching staff. So we were looking to find some starters who could be more efficient on the front end to help navigate a season.

“We know that Michael has the capabilities to get anyone out in this game, based on his stuff, and he did show that as a starter, even in his spring training outings. However, being a starting pitcher and a desire to go deeper into games and being more efficient is something that we were aiming for. So now this transition, we hope the smaller bite of the apple, so to speak, in reliever outings, whether it be one or two innings, is going to be something that’s easier to accomplish for Michael and be better for the White Sox.”

After missing 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and opting out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for personal reasons, Kopech primarily worked out of the bullpen in 2021. He had a 3.90 ERA in 40 relief outings.

Kopech made 25 starts in 2022 and went 5-12 with a 5.43 ERA in 30 appearances (27 starts) last season.

“This could be really good for us and him or it could be a step for him to get back to where he wants to be down the road,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “All I know is you have to be where your feet are, and I told him your feet right now are in the bullpen.

“And he knows that, he accepted that and he knows he has a job to do. And you can’t be thinking down the road when you have a job to do. I was really impressed with how he handled this situation. Really impressed.”

Kopech’s switch and Wednesday’s trade that sent Dylan Cease to the San Diego Padres leaves more questions for the rotation. Michael Soroka, Erick Fedde and Chris Flexen were each added this offseason. The competition continues among other options, with Garrett Crochet one possibility.

Kopech said the Sox haven’t discussed bullpen roles, but he’d be open to closing.

“Sure I’m interested in it,” he said. “I never really had that role. I never really have done that. I would be glad to embrace that role.

“But I think right now I have to work on being consistent before we talk about a role of that importance.”