After rejoining White Sox in bullpen role, Kopech set to move back to starting rotation

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Associated Press After a two-year absence, Michael Kopech returned to the White Sox last season and pitched out of the bullpen. Next year, Kopech is going to be back in the starting rotation.

    Associated Press After a two-year absence, Michael Kopech returned to the White Sox last season and pitched out of the bullpen. Next year, Kopech is going to be back in the starting rotation.

 
 
Updated 11/11/2021 6:18 PM

The White Sox non-tendered Carlos Rodon at the end of the 2020 season, seemingly ending his injury-riddled stay on the South Side.

In a surprising turn of events, the left-hander agreed to return on a one-year, $3 million contract right before spring training.

 

It turned out to be a good deal for both sides.

Rodon not only filled a big hole in the Sox's rotation, he pitched a no-hitter against Cleveland, made his first trip to the All-Star Game and finished the season with a 13-5 record, 2.37 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 132⅔ innings.

Now a free agent after the White Sox declined to extend an $18.4 million qualifying offer, Rodon is almost certain to be pitching in a new uniform next season.

"The slim chance that he might be back with us, I don't know, but I think there's an even greater chance that he's not because there's going to be some suitors that probably want his big lefty frame," White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel said. "I wish him the best."

Rodon showed he was one of the best starters in the game when healthy, but shoulder soreness and fatigue limited him to 43 innings in the second half of last season.

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Given his lengthy history of elbow and shoulder issues, the Sox aren't likely to bring Rodon back again, especially at a much higher price.

"On a personal level, it's just, it was great to see a kid who had been through a lot and had a lot of adversity fulfill the promise our scouts and player development all saw from him back when we drafted him out of N.C. State," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "From that standpoint, it's a bittersweet day. He met that potential and now obviously he has the benefit of exploring his free agent options."

With Rodon likely to sign elsewhere, Michael Kopech is set to move from the bullpen and join Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Keuchel in the rotation.

"I think it would be great," Giolito said of Kopech. "That's what he wants. That's what he knows he can do. Obviously, the stuff is electric. There's no question there. The biggest challenge for him is going to be just pretty much managing the innings jump, having a very clear starter's routine."

Kopech was a starter when he joined the White Sox from Class AAA Charlotte late in the 2018 season.

In a Sept. 5 outing against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field, the right-hander made an early exit with elbow pain and wound up having Tommy John surgery.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kopech missed the entire 2019 season and opted out in 2020.

Pitching out of the bullpen last season, he was 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA to go with 103 strikeouts in 69⅓ innings.

Getting Kopech ready to carry a much heavier load is the big challenge for the Sox.

"We are going to have to be diligent in our monitoring of him over the course of the offseason as well as spring training and over the course of the regular season in terms of how the ball looks coming out of his hand, what his mechanics look like, what the data is telling us," Hahn said. "The kid has a world of talent. We think he is going to be a potentially dominant starter for a long time but we are dealing with a limited innings base and we need to build it up wisely.

"I'm going to probably sitting in this chair some point next summer explaining why we are doing something with Michael in terms of giving him a break in order to keep him strong over the course of the season."

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