Chicago White Sox

White Sox, Buehrle open series vs. A's on CSN

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White Sox, Buehrle open series vs. A's on CSN

Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 10:25 a.m.

Associated Press

The Oakland Athletics have been slumping on offense, but emerged with a decent hitting performance in their last game.

Seeing Mark Buehrle on the mound for the Chicago White Sox may help them sustain that momentum.

Buehrle hopes to end his struggles against Oakland as the teams begin a three-game set Monday in Chicago.

READ: White Sox slugger Adam Dunn hopes to be sprung soon

The Athletics (4-5) have won three of four overall thanks largely to strong pitching, but they had totaled four runs in their three games prior to Sunday's series finale at Minnesota. The bats then awakened in a 5-3 victory. Hideki Matsui hit his first homer in the fourth inning, and Josh Willingham added a solo shot in Oakland's four-run sixth.

"It was good that the offense came together," said Matsui, who entered Sunday batting .160 with three RBIs. "The starting pitching has been pitching well, but they weren't quite getting the offensive support."

The A's have long done just enough to win against Buehrle (1-0, 7.36 ERA). The left-hander has a respectable 3.90 lifetime ERA versus Oakland, but only a 4-13 record to show for it due to a run support average of less than three.

Buehrle's support has run the gamut from extraordinary to non-existent in his two starts this season. After getting credit for a 15-10 victory at Cleveland on opening day, he received no support at all while in the game at Kansas City on Wednesday. Buehrle allowed five runs in five innings, but didn't get a decision as the White Sox (6-3) rallied to win 10-7 in 12 innings.

If Paul Konerko and the top of the White Sox's order continue hitting the way they did Sunday, Buehrle stands a good chance of overcoming the Athletics.

Konerko hit two solo home runs in Chicago's 6-1 victory against Tampa Bay. Leadoff man Juan Pierre drove in a run and No. 2 hitter Gordon Beckham added his second homer of the season in the first inning. Beckham didn't hit his second home run of 2010 until June 25.

"They've been getting on base, having quality at-bats and they've been tough on the other team," Konerko said of Pierre and Beckham. "That makes it easier for the guys in the middle."

Konerko is enjoying a sizzling start to 2011. He's batting .400 with at least one hit in each game, and has three homers and 11 RBIs. However, he is 0 for 13 with four strikeouts in his last four games against the A's,

Oakland will oppose Buehrle with a southpaw of its own in Dallas Braden (0-1, 6.43).

WATCH & READ: Taking a look back at Braden's 2010 perfect game

Braden had an underwhelming season debut Wednesday at Toronto, allowing five runs and 10 hits through seven innings of Oakland's 5-3 loss.

Braden is 2-0 with a 3.22 ERA in three career starts against the White Sox, with both victories coming within six days of each other last season. He beat them 6-4 on July 25, then pitched a complete game and gave up two runs in a 6-2 win July 31.

Konerko is 2 for 8 off Braden, though both hits were doubles.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No player has impacted the Double-A Birmingham Barons the way Michael Kopech has since … Michael Jordan?

That’s the belief of long-time Barons play-by-play man Curt Bloom, who said Kopech has garnered more attention than almost every player he’s covered during 26 seasons in the booth.

Bloom acknowledges that nobody will ever surpass Air Jordan’s 127 games with the Barons in 1994. But the advent of social media has made Kopech an extremely popular attraction this season. Whenever he takes the mound, the team’s social media accounts see a significant increase in page views, engagement and impressions.

“Jordan-esque,” Bloom said. “Nothing will beat Jordan. LeBron could come down. But this reminds me of it. It triggers it. A jolt.

“Nothing stirred like this guy has and I do say, and I think Kopech will tell you the same thing, a big chunk of the reason is we have social media. We didn’t have that for Jordan. We did not have that for Aaron Rowand. There’s always a ying for a yang.

“That being said, it’s still gone beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’s unavoidable to miss the Barons’ remembrance of Jordan’s season when he reportedly paid $350,000 to buy the club a luxury bus “The Jordan Cruiser and the Barons set records for attendance. The team drew 467,867 at their old stadium, Hoover Met, and Southern League attendance was more than 2.5 million.

Jordan’s image wearing a Barons No. 45 jersey can be found throughout Regions Field, including a massive banner near the home-plate entrance.

Kopech has been a focal point for White Sox fans since he was acquired in December.

Whether it’s his 100-mph fastball, his lofty prospect status or simply the fact he came over in the Chris Sale deal, eye balls have been drawn to Kopech all season. The right-hander has only increased the awareness with his steady presence on social media, including giving away game-used items to fans.

Throw in his recent dominance on the mound — Kopech has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in his last 41 innings — and the hysteria is real.

The Barons determined early on this season that they would follow in the steps of several major league clubs and anoint the day he pitched at home Kopech Day. The White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins have all recently done the same for Sale, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez.

Kopech has only lived up to the hype.

“He’s answering the bell,” Bloom said. “There’s definitely awareness in the city, in our followers, the Twitter universe.

“My daughter Chloe who has no idea about baseball, she asks me, ‘Is Kopech pitching?’

"That’s what has been created.”

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

Working relationship: Trust in pitching coach Jose Bautista key to Michael Kopech's dominance

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A strong relationship with pitching coach Jose Bautista allowed Michael Kopech to make a midseason adjustment he thinks is critical to his dominant stretch.

The Double-A Birmingham pitcher said he’s learned a ton about himself during a very good first season with the White Sox. Much of Kopech’s newfound knowledge is related to the direction of his throwing motion and how he needs to be more consistent with it. The suggestion came courtesy of Bautista, who’s in his ninth season as a White Sox coach.

Kopech, who next pitches for the Barons on Friday night, has found the necessary amount of consistency since he and Bautista made the switch in early July. Since then Kopech, 21, has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in 41 innings.

“He really trusts Jose’s information,” Birmingham manager Julio Vinas said. “They did some mechanical stuff fixing his direction. He just took off from there once they corrected that direction and make him understand, strike one, how important it really is. He had one good game where he got into the seventh inning and he came out and he says, ‘That’s the longest outing I’ve had.’ And it was like right after he had corrected the direction and he just took off from there. He’s done great. He’s a great kid. He works hard. Fantastic teammate.”

Kopech is pleased with the insight he has gained from Bautista.

“I feel like I’ve learned more about myself this year,” the right-hander said. “Just that I’m more successful as a starter when I’m able to repeatedly stay in one motion.”

Bautista’s fix came on the heels of a six-start run where Kopech posted a 7.46 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. The club used a nine-day window between starts from July 5-13 to work on his direction. Kopech had only one appearance, a scoreless inning in the Futures Game.

“I may be a guy that goes toward the plate and spins off,” Kopech said. “But I can’t be a guy that goes toward the plate and stays toward the plate and the next pitch goes toward the plate and then spins off. I just have to follow in that some pattern no matter what I’m doing. It’s about consistency and I’ve learned my most consistent patterns as a pitcher. That’s put me in a good position.”

Rather, it’s put Kopech in an elite position.

The No. 12 prospect in baseball has perhaps begun to outperform the lofty expectations that have been in place since he arrived last December from Boston in the Chris Sale trade.

Opposing hitters have a .414 OPS against him over the last month. He has completed at least six innings in each of his last six starts and has gone seven frames or more four times.

“He’s going deeper into games,” player development director Chris Getz. “A lot of it has to do with that fastball command and really its staying within his delivery and going after hitters early with that fastball, trusting it, because he’s got good action on the fastball, not just the upper-90s straight fastball. He’s got natural two-seam action to his ball.”

Undoubtedly, throwing more strikes has played a big role in Kopech’s dominance. In his first 16 starts, Kopech threw strikes 61 percent of the time en route to a respectable 4.02 ERA. He’s increased that figure to 67 percent in his last six games.

Ultimately, Kopech credits Bautista for getting him back in the right direction.

“Getting a little bit of success with one mechanical adjustment kind of made the mental adjustments easier,” Kopech said. “It made me feel a little bit more comfortable with myself.

“I stayed in line. I stopped spinning off so much. The solution to that was getting out there and throwing more strikes. One thing became another and after that I started feeling a lot more comfortable with myself.

“A lot of it has to do with Jose and him being in my ear and telling me when I’m coming off and when I’m doing certain things.

“It’s the best I’ve been all year, the most consistent I’ve been all year. I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”