GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — When Michael Kopech started throwing again after right knee surgery, he felt a sense of relief.
It was a real issue that prevented him from being himself for much of last season with the Chicago White Sox.
“Absolutely. There’s a little bit of relief knowing that I wasn’t just trying hard and it not coming out last year,” Kopech said. “There was something that I had to fight through, which take it with a grain of salt. I’m going to battle through everything that I have to battle though. But ultimately, I want to be as healthy as I can and I’m on track to do that now.”
The 26-year-old Kopech went 5-9 with a 3.54 ERA in a career-high 25 starts in 2022. But he left a June 12 game against Texas with right knee discomfort, and it became a lingering issue for the rest of the year.
The right knee trouble quite possibly played a role in Kopech going on the 15-day injured list in August with left knee discomfort. He went back on the IL on Sept. 17 with right shoulder inflammation, ending his season.
Kopech said he showed up early to spring training this year to finish his rehab, and he thinks he will be ready for the start of the season.
“I’m at a point where the knee’s feeling better, the shoulder’s feeling better,” he said Friday. “But it’s just kind of smoothing things out and getting back to 100 percent.”
It has been more than seven years since Chicago acquired Kopech in the December 2016 trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox. Since his big league debut with the White Sox in 2018, the hard-throwing right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Kopech missed the 2019 season after he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
“It kind of flies by, I still feel like I’m 22,” he said. “My body might disagree with me but I still feel like a young kid in this game. Hopefully I have a few more years that are still youthful and strong. I’m going to do everything I can to be as impactful in this game as I can.”
He was certainly impactful at several points last year. He had five starts in 2022 when he pitched at least five innings and allowed one hit or fewer. One of those was a dominant performance against Detroit when he struck out a career-high 11 in six hitless innings, and he also had a gem at Yankee Stadium when he permitted one hit in seven scoreless innings.
But Chicago finished 81-81 in a disappointing season.
“You probably heard multiple guys in the clubhouse say we have something to prove to ourselves, to the fans, to the league,” Kopech said. “We should have had a better season last year. We have the talent, we always seem to have the talent. It’s a matter of coming together and doing the little things right.”
First-year manager Pedro Grifol said he is just looking for Kopech to stay healthy this spring.
“He’s got to go through the process, but he’s right on pace to be where we want him to be at the start of the season,” Grifol said.
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