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Michael Kopech's return to the mound brings a feeling of relief

Michael Kopech's return to the mound brings a feeling of relief

After more than four years of waiting, Kopech is on the cusp of contributing in the majors

Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk

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Good morning, frents!

Still some time for you to hit reply to this email and tell me the *one* Chicago sporting event you wish you would've been able to attend in person over the past year. Thanks to everyone who wrote in yesterday; look for your submissions in tomorrow's newsletter.

Tuesday's results
Stars 6, Hawks 1
Cubs 9, A's 8
Padres 4, Sox 2

Today's schedule
Minnesota vs. N'Western (5:30, BTN)
DePaul vs. Providence (8, FS1)
Cubs at Giants (2, no TV)
Sox - no game

Feeling of relief

He won't turn 25 until the end of April, but it sometimes seems like Michael Kopech has already lived 100 baseball lives.

The latest one started Tuesday at Camelback Ranch when Kopech pitched a perfect inning of relief for the White Sox in a 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres.

The right-hander threw seven of his nine pitches for strikes and touched the high 90s with his fastball. He got Austin Nola to ground out, caught Jorge Mateo looking on a 98 MPH fastball and induced an inning-ending flyout from Ivan Castillo.

"I’m glad I got that opportunity under my belt," Kopech told reporters on a Zoom. "Kind of being back out there with those guys after it being so long, it was nice to feel like I’m part of a team again.”

It was nice for Sox fans to see him as part of it, too.

Kopech, of course, has been a member of the team since arriving from Boston with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade in December 2016. For most of that time he's been little more than a mystery. First as a raw prospect with a live arm capable of reaching triple digits and later as an enigmatic figure struggling to get through Tommy John surgery, battles with anxiety and depression, and a tabloid-fodder divorce with his Hollywood wife.

Kopech's last in-game pitches for the Sox came March 10 a year ago, just before spring training was postponed because of the pandemic. He opted out of the 2020 season in mid-July and will start the 2021 season as a member of the bullpen.

That seems like an ideal scenario for Kopech to finally make a real push into the major leagues. When he was called up to the Sox in August 2018, the team needed him to be more β€” a top-of-the-rotation guy capable of lifting a rebuilding effort off the ground.

Kopech's stay lasted only 14 innings before his elbow broke, and now he's returning to a franchise with a rotation that has taken flight without him. Lucas Giolito has evolved into an unquestioned ace, the additions of Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn will eat quality innings and Dylan Cease will pitch with the pressure of hitting the higher ceiling.

Kopech comes armed with his own expectations β€” he's been in our minds too long for nothing to be asked of him β€” but the need isn't as urgent. The past few years of his life have been so tumultuous on both a personal and professional level that it's nice that Kopech and the Sox have the luxury to slow play this.

Kopech will work exclusively from the stretch while coming out of the bullpen, and says he's looking forward to mastering the short situations as they're presented to him.

Getting three outs is a lot different than, say, 20.

β€œSo, that's really exciting to me, to not have to strategically plan for the whole game and really just do my best, pitch to pitch," Kopech said.

After four years of mostly waiting, it's just good to see him on the cusp of throwing meaningful pitches in the majors again.

Rafael Ortega, hello!

Spring training or not, a walkoff grand slam is going to get your juices flowing. Yes, even in the seventh inning.

So who's the Rafael Ortega fella, you might be asking with half an eyebrow raised? Well, don't get too excited. He's 29 and has only 410 major-league at-bats to his name, only three of which have gone for home runs. The Cubs signed the outfielder to a minor-league deal last November after Ortega hit .205 over 96 plate appearances with the Braves last season.

Still, grand slam! Walkoff! Down three runs! Cubs win! It made for a fun little highlight on a Tuesday in early March. Love it for what it was.

Stars ruin Patrick Kane's 1,000th game

Dallas came into Tuesday's game in desperate need of a win and it blew the doors off Malcolm Subban in a 6-1 victory. Patrick Kane didn't tally a point in his 1,000th game out, but he did get a videotaped message from Jonathan Toews and it was good to see The Captain. Toews is at 943 career games played and we can only hope he can resume adding to that total one day.

  • In the day's most exciting hockey news, ESPN and NHL announced a new seven-year rights deal, which immediately made me go looking for an old ESPN opener featuring Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour. (Found it!) For someone who really got into hockey during the early '90s, it's a cool hit of nostalgia to see pucks back on the Worldwide Leader. (Now here's hoping they keep the debate shows far away from hockey and don't banish the sport to a hidden tab on ESPN+.)

Trivia

Name the seven men who have played at least 1,000 games wearing a Blackhawks sweater.

Bears tag A-Rob, Kyle Long returns

The Bears placing the franchise tag on Allen Robinson just before Tuesday afternoon's deadline didn't come as a surprise, though I'm not sure we're ready for the drama that might unfold if an extension, trade or high-profile QB isn't the offing.

Kyle Long, meanwhile, is returning to the NFL after a year off, but don't get your hopes up β€” he hasn't been shy airing his feelings toward Matt Nagy and his staff. Still, there's no doubt Bears fans will be rooting for him wherever he lands, as long as it's not within the NFC North.

  1. Illinois AD Josh Whitman wants to fly a regular season title banner in the worst way and he wrote an open letter to prove it. FightingIllini.com
  2. Brad Biggs on what the Bears saw at Northwestern's pro day, which was a bit more high-profile than years past. Tribune
  3. Patrick Kane's hilarious (and relaxing) venture into ASMR was inspired by one of my favorite people in Chicago sports. WGN-TV
  4. Rob Schaefer has your Bulls trade rumors. NBC Sports Chicago
  5. One of Chicago's oldest vendors isn't sure how the baseball season is going to play out for him. Eater Chicago

Trivia answer: Β Stan Mikita (1,396) Duncan Keith (1,165) Brent Seabrook (1,114) Bobby Hull (1,036), Eric Nesterenko (1,013), Bob Murray (1,008) and Kane (1,000)