Michael Kopech wasn’t sure how he would feel in the first inning of Tuesday’s start against the Los Angeles Dodgers after a less-than-stellar bullpen session before the game.
Turns out, Kopech said, “there was really no correlation there.”
The Chicago White Sox right-hander was sharp from the start, shutting down one of the most dangerous offenses in the majors.
Kopech allowed one hit while striking out eight and walking one in six innings, leading the Sox to a 4-0 victory in front of 25,625 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I felt good in the first and I was able to carry that throughout the start,” Kopech said.
The offensive support came in the sixth, when the Sox scored four runs against the Dodgers bullpen.
AJ Pollock knocked in two with a pinch-hit double. He scored on Jake Burger’s double, and Burger scored on a single by Reese McGuire. All four runs came with two outs as the Sox won their third straight.
The big inning put Kopech (2-2) in line for the win. He had at least one strikeout in each of the first five innings and lowered his ERA to 1.94.
“He rises to the occasion,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “Today, he’s pitching like he’s pitched most of his starts. Everything direct to the plate, good stuff, good location, good command.”
Kopech bounced back after allowing a season-high five runs in his last start June 1 in Toronto.
“Kind of got away from what I do preparing for Toronto’s game, and it showed,” Kopech said. “Then I got back to that and I got back on track. That’s a big step in the right direction.”
He executed Tuesday like the pitcher who allowed one hit in seven shutout innings against the New York Yankees in Game 2 of a May 22 doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
In that game, Kopech retired the first 17 batters before Rob Brantly broke up the perfect game with a two-out double in the sixth.
He retired the first eight batters Tuesday before walking Gavin Lux with two outs in the third. The Dodgers collected their first hit when Will Smith singled with two outs in the fourth.
“There were a few times that I lost a little bit of focus,” Kopech said. “That hit that I gave up, I just wasn’t there for that third pitch. I don’t know what the velocity was or anything like that, but in my mind that’s a lazy pitch.
“That four-pitch, two-out walk, I just lost the focus there. But for the most part there were just small moments like that. Throughout the rest of the game I was able to stay focused. I think that helps me.”
Both starters kept putting up zeroes. The Dodgers’ Mitch White retired the first 12 batters before José Abreu singled to center leading off the fifth.
“I was present for almost every pitch today and I account for the times it bit me in the butt to not be present,” Kopech said. “But there’s definitely an extra factor, a little extra blood going knowing that the other guy is putting up zeroes every inning with you. Ultimately we’re here to win a game.”
The Sox loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but White struck out McGuire looking and Josh Harrison swinging. The Sox are 4-for-39 with the bases loaded this season.
White exited after allowing two hits and striking out five in five scoreless innings.
Pollock, acquired in a trade with the Dodgers for Craig Kimbrel during spring training, hit for Gavin Sheets with two outs and two on in the sixth. He hit David Price’s first pitch to right for the two-run double. Burger drove him into the next pitch with a double.
The Dodgers intentionally walked Yoán Moncada to pitch to McGuire. He made them pay with his RBI single.
“Nothing was going on for a while,” Pollock said. “The pitching was great. Both offenses are explosive. Either offense could open the gate and put up a bunch of runs. We did a good job of staying patient, staying calm and got some guys on and we were able to get some hits.”
Sox relievers induced double plays in the seventh and eighth. And closer Liam Hendriks worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth as the Dodgers were blanked for just the second time this season.
“These are teams that are very capable of being playoff teams, more than likely going to be playoff teams,” Kopech said. “So for us to compete well against them, it goes a long way.”