Michael Kopech hasn’t had much of a feel for his curveball or changeup this year. Tonight, he didn’t need them. His feel for his slider has been equally spotty at times; Tonight, it wasn’t.
Tonight, Kopech recorded an out in the eighth inning as a starter for the first time in his career, facing the minimum over eight shutout innings, striking out 10, and taking a perfect game into the sixth inning. He joins Floyd Bannister and Gary Peters as White Sox pitchers to complete eight innings with no more than one hit, double-digit strikeouts, and not a walk in sight.
Michael Kopech's 10th strikeout of the game pic.twitter.com/zEROYbPBrl— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) May 20, 2023
A broken-bat single to Michael Massey was the only runner the Royals put on base all night, and his presence was subsequently erased by a 4-6-3 double play. It was without question the finest start of Kopech’s career, needing just 98 pitches to record 24 outs and drawing glowing praise from Steve Stone and Jason Benetti, who repeatedly placed his dominance tonight on par with recent no-hitters from Lucas Giolito and Carlos Rodón.
A full 70% of those pitches were four-seam fastballs, and the Royals simply could not do anything with a pitch that finally had the combination of velocity and command that Kopech has only teased at various points in his four years in a White Sox uniform. It averaged a sizzling 96.6 mph and brushed 99 mph on several different occasions. It generated an incredible 42% CSW, powered by 15 whiffs, making him the third pitcher this season (alongside Spencer Strider and Cristian Javier) to reach that mark this season. Kopech filled up the strike zone, daring hitters to make contact with it — they couldn’t, because it was 97 mph, with wicked rise — and doing an excellent job of hitting the fringes of the zone and just above it to stay ahead in the count. Kopech was able to keep his slider competitive enough that hitters who were having difficulty with the fastball had no chance against that secondary pitch,
Michael Kopech, Elevated 98mph ⛽️⛽️ pic.twitter.com/qY4D1J6VOn— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 20, 2023
I’ve had plenty of gripes with Pedro Grifol to this point in his brief tenure, but I do appreciate his indication in the post-game presser that he would have allowed Kopech to go out for the ninth with 98 pitches, had there still been a potato in the hit column.
All told, it should be a tremendous confidence-booster for a pitcher who, for all his frustrating inconsistency, is still just 27 years old and just now crossed the threshold of 250 major league innings. The Kansas City lineup is certainly no litmus test for the rest of the league, but even though it might not get him eight no-hit innings against better hitters there’s little doubt that tonight’s approach will still play against just about any team, if Kopech can be aggressive and accurate with the fastball to the degree he was tonight.
On the offensive side, it was another lackluster performance that, fortunately for the South Siders, will largely avoid scrutiny because of Kopech’s brilliance. The lineup mustered just five hits against the three-man combination of Zack Greinke, Zack Greinke’s post-pitch grunt, and Jackson Kowar, and four of those hits — all singles — came in the second inning, when Gavin Sheets drove in Yoán Moncada for the game’s opening run, followed a hitter later by a deep sacrifice fly from Romy González.
That was pretty much all she wrote for the bats, though. Tim Anderson reached on a Bobby Witt Jr. error to lead off the third inning, but aside from back-to-back walks to Andrew Vaughn and Sheets in the sixth inning, Chicago went quietly, sitting down 1-2-3 in innings number four, five, seven, and eight.
Kendall Graveman followed the lead of Kopech and the Sox offense with a 1-2-3 inning to shut things down, bringing the game to a close after just two hours and six minutes. All the better, as these two teams will be at it again in just over 15 hours, when noted lover of day games Lucas Giolito tries to make it two series wins in a row for the Sox. Gio faces Jordan Lyles, who took the loss despite throwing a complete game in his team’s sole loss to the Sox in their four-game set last week. Lyles’ career ERA+ of 82 is quite literally the worst of any pitcher in the live-ball era with at least 1,000 career innings, so, uh, let’s take care of business, boys!