Kopech: 'Trusting my stuff was big for me'
When he trusts that his stuff is good enough, White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech is much better off.
And on Saturday evening, he was certainly good enough -- whiffing five batters in 2⅓ innings as he mixed his fastball and off-speed pitches to dominating effect.
"That's the Michael we're excited about," said Sox manager Tony La Russa.
After a dominant first half of the season, Kopech struggled after the All-Star break. Three rough outings caused his earned run average to balloon from 1.52 on July 28 to 4.00 on Sept. 4. Those rocky outings accounted for 14 of the 17 earned runs he gave up in that window, during which he logged 11⅔ innings.
Kopech said his struggles were a matter of "my eyes getting too big when there's two strikes or there's two outs."
"I've been trying to make my pitches better than they are, which tends to do the opposite," Kopech said. "I think just trusting my stuff today was big for me."
He kept the Red Sox off balance during his 31-pitch outing. "I think it's really just doing a better job of mixing rather than trying to get too heavy on one pitch," said Kopech.
Regular work for Kopech enables him to get a better feel on the mound, noted Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal. "The more he throws, the better he gets. ... The ball was definitely jumping today," Grandal said.
After retiring the first batter he faced in the seventh, Kopech gave way to Aaron Bummer, who struck out the two batters he faced.
Their combined work underscored the key role that middle relievers will play as the postseason rolls around. Closing is crucial, of course: Craig Kimbrel gave up the tying run in the eighth inning of a game that Chicago eventually lost in 10 innings, 9-8.
Sox handling Anderson's return with care
Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, recovering from a hamstring injury the past two weeks, will return to action Tuesday when the team hosts the Los Angeles Angels, said La Russa. However, don't expect to see Anderson's name in the lineup every day.
"His legs are such a critical part of his game, whether it's defense, offense. ... We're being very super careful with it," La Russa said. "When he comes back, we're going to be careful with his usage, just break him in little by little."
While lauding the play of Danny Mendick and Leury Garcia -- Sunday's hero with a walk-off home run that beat the Red Sox -- La Russa made clear what everyone knows: Anderson's return will give the Sox a boost.
"No disrespect to them, but Tim is one of the best out there," the manager said. "When he plays, it helps spark everybody."