White Sox’s Tony La Russa explains why Michael Kopech won’t move into rotation despite impressive start

Chicago White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech struck out 10 batters over five one-run innings against the Texas Rangers on Sunday in what was his second start of the season. Still, it doesn’t appear that the White Sox will be moving Kopech into the rotation on a permanent basis once Lance Lynn returns from the injured list later this week. 

“This is definitely not the time to think about moving Michael into the rotation,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa told The Athletic’s James Fegan. “Michael Kopech is going to be a top-line starting pitcher. But right now it made sense to get him in condition and add more and more pitches.”

Kopech, who will celebrate his 25th birthday this week, had been one of the game’s top pitching prospects prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018. He missed the 2019 season rehabbing from the operation, and he then opted out of the shortened 2020 season for personal reasons. 

The White Sox had opened the season using Kopech as a multi-inning reliever, but Lynn’s stint on the injured list created an opportunity for him to get two starts. CBS Sports wrote this following his first start last week:

Kopech has always been known for his arm strength and his wavering command. Both characteristics remain. He averaged 96 mph with his heater and maxed out around 98 mph. His location wasn’t always where he intended it to be, but he was generally around the zone on Sunday, and on the season he’s thrown an average amount of strikes. Besides, opponents are batting .091 against his fastball so far this year, suggesting the destination matters less than the brief, lively journey.

Kopech has now made six appearances this season, tallying 27 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. He’s allowed three runs on seven hits and four walks, resulting in a 1.72 ERA (241 ERA+) and a 6.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio. CBS Sports expert Scott White took a look at Kopech’s Fantasy Baseball value here.

It’s worth noting that La Russa did leave the door open for Kopech to join the rotation later this year, though it’s unclear if that’s the White Sox’s plan. He also made a comparison to St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright‘s 2006 season. Wainwright made 61 relief appearances that year before moving to the rotation in 2007. La Russa was, of course, the manager of the Cardinals for all of that.

Coming into Monday, the White Sox had one starting pitcher with a well-below-average ERA — that being staff ace Lucas Giolito, who had his start pushed back a few days after a minor injury. Obviously the White Sox won’t be moving Giolito, so if Kopech does join the rotation it will likely be in response to another injury or to replace youngster Dylan Cease, who continues to struggle with his control.

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