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.”