Joining the starting rotation from Class AAA Charlotte on Aug. 21, Michael Kopech was everything the Chicago White Sox were hoping for, and more.
Not only was the 22-year-old righty 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his first 3 major-league starts, Kopech brought the kind of attitude found on most contending teams.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been a winning team,” he said. “Hopefully it stays that way for a long time. I think we’re all pulling in the same direction, and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of right now.”
The fun came to a screeching halt in Kopech’s next start.
Lasting just 3⅓ innings in a Sept. 5 game against the Tigers at Guaranteed Field, Kopech’s potent fastball lacked pop, his off-speed pitches were flat and his ERA jumped to 5.02 after Detroit scored 7 runs on 9 hits — 4 of them home runs.
Complaining of elbow soreness the next day, Kopech saw team physician Dr. Nikhal Verma and an MRI revealed “a rather significant tear in his ulnar collateral ligament,” according to Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
Kopech is seeking a second opinion, but Tommy John surgery is likely coming, and that puts the top pitching prospect out for the entire 2019 season.
The news was deflating.
“We’ve had so many injuries this year,” starting pitcher James Shields said. “Not a lot of people talk about that, to be honest with you. We haven’t had our whole team the whole year. It just seems like one thing after another.
“To have (Kopech) go down like that, obviously it’s a blow to the team and our organization. But we’ve got to do a better job of moving on.”
As Kopech alluded to before blowing out his elbow, the White Sox were 7-5 when he was on the roster.
Since the news broke about his injury, the Sox lost five in a row before defeating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 in 12 innings Wednesday night.
Manager Rick Renteria always tries to find the positives, and he stayed in character after the Kopech bombshell.
“If we look at it from a pessimistic perspective, it could bring you down,” Renteria said. “If you look at it from an optimistic perspective, which is he’s going to be back and still be a part of this thing, I think that’s the route that I would take.
“We really can’t do anything for him now; it’s up to the professionals that deal with those things. He is a driven person. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to go through everything very, very well and he’ll be back.”
Kopech is expected to be back in the White Sox’s rotation in 2020, but there’s no way around it — his absence next season is a crushing blow in the rebuild process.
“It’s disappointing because of the momentum he had built and the excitement he had created about the immediate future,” Hahn said. “But he’s still going to be very much a part of our long-term future, and we’re still very much excited about that.”