As Michael Kopech dominates in Charlotte and Chicago White Sox fans are forced to suffer through starts from James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez, managing desires has to be the No. 1 priority for general manager Rick Hahn.
The White Sox would be better with Kopech on their staff right now, there’s almost no questioning that given Shields and Gonzalez’s ineptitude and Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito’s struggles. However, long-term it’s in their best interest to take their sweet time with the flame-throwing righty.
Even as he comes off his best start of the season on Wednesday — 6 innings of one-hit, one-run ball with 8 strikeouts against just a pair of walks — it’s imperative they don’t succumb to public opinion.
And, if Tuesday was any indicator, it appears Hahn isn’t yielding to the pressure. Gonzalez went to the disabled on Monday and it was 31-year-old Chris Volstad who got the ball against the Mariners and he threw it okay, lasting just 4.1 innings but giving up just one run.
In an ideal world for Hahn, Volstad throws it well enough to hold down the fifth spot in the rotation until Gonzalez is healthy and possibly beyond. But even if he doesn’t it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the four starters in Triple-A before Kopech got the call and that’s the right decision.
No matter how well Kopech throws it in Charlotte and how hard Gonzalez, Volstad, Dylan Covey, Chris Beck, Donn Roach or Tyler Danish get hit in the majors, the White Sox are better off with the status quo. Because purpose is everything at the moment.
Kopech has two very clear directives right now. Continue to develop his changeup and catalog innings.
Prior to throwing 134.1 innings in 2017, the young right-hander hadn’t thrown more than 65 innings in either of his two previous professional season. And as a kid who strikes batters out in high volume, he has a tendency to throw a lot of pitches.
He’s got to learn to work more efficiently and deeper into games and nobody seems to understand that better than the 21-year-old. After fanning 10 in Indianapolis over the weekend, Kopech was incredulous over having fallen behind too frequently and only logging 5 innings.
“Felt like I pitched better honestly behind in counts than ahead in counts today, wasn’t a great outing for me overall,” Kopech told James Fegan of The Athletic after the outing. “I’m not too worried about the strikeouts. I know that my stuff is good, but it’s how I execute my stuff. I felt like I didn’t execute well tonight.
“I don’t know how many pitches I threw, but to only get five innings with only three runs on the board is unacceptable in my opinion. I did it to myself a bit there, with the balk and the wild pitch in the last inning.”
He also knew exactly how many changeups he’d thrown (12) and even went as far as devoting half of his warm-up tosses to the secondary offering that could come to define his career. However, if you call him up now that luxury likely dissipates.
The second he steps foot on a big league bump, the time for adjustments ends because everybody will be looking at results first and foremost. Sure, he could continue to tinker but if he’s getting shelled out there he won’t receive the same level of patience he’s gotten in Charlotte.
Fans who have already pinned their hopes for the future of this starting rotation on his shoulders will want to see the dominant power-pitching they’ve read about everywhere for the past three years. They’ll demand it and liberally toss out the “bust” label at the earliest possible convenience if they don’t get it.
Of course, that’s not the slightest bit fair, but when has that ever mattered? Which is why Kopech is exactly where he belongs at the moment.
Carlos Rodon is set to return at the end of next month or the beginning of June and Giolito and Fulmer will surely stand a better chance of showing life as the weather warms up. So the White Sox simply have to endure until then.
It’s not going to be easy, especially after such an impressive start on Wednesday. He’s now up to 98 pitches and worked through six innings for the second time this season, but you’d still love to see him getting into the seventh or deeper with that pitch count and perfecting that changeup before you make any moves.
By July, August or September, it’s entirely possible they deem Kopech ready and give the fans their first taste because they’ve calculated it’s in their best interest to do so. However, no matter how bad the schmuck they trot out there gets wrecked until then, they can’t afford to move a second too early on promoting Kopech to The Show.