Michael Kopech allows 1 run in 3-plus innings in his first start since 2018 as the Chicago White Sox win 5-1 to sweep the Boston Red Sox in a doubleheader

BOSTON — The Chicago White Sox needed a starter for the second game of Sunday’s split doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox.

Michael Kopech was ready for the assignment.

The hard-throwing right-hander allowed one run on one hit with four strikeouts and one walk in three-plus innings in his first start in 31 months, and the White Sox swept the doubleheader with a 5-1 victory in Game 2.

“My passion is starting, and so I think (manager) Tony (La Russa) has been able to see that in me since spring training,” Kopech said. “Not that I was verbally fighting for this start, but I really wanted it when I saw there was an opportunity for a spot start.

“I just tried to treat it like it was another game when I was coming out of the bullpen. I didn’t go into all my starting routine like I had a couple years ago. I wanted to be comfortable and go out there and compete. And with it being against the old squad, that just made it that much more fun.”

Kopech retired the first nine batters he faced. He walked Enrique Hernández to begin the fourth, and Alex Verdugo followed with a single. Kopech exited, having thrown 41 pitches.

“That’s what we needed,” La Russa said. “He was outstanding.”

It was Kopech’s first start since Sept. 5, 2018, against the Detroit Tigers. The next day, he was diagnosed with a torn right ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery Sept. 18.

He missed all of 2019 while recovering and opted out in 2020 for personal reasons.

While the long-term plan is for Kopech to start, he made a temporary transition to the bullpen for this season. He has excelled in the role with a 1.17 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 7⅔ innings over four relief appearances.

“I want to go out there and pitch the way I can pitch,” Kopech said. “I’ve said it in the past, but whether that role is out of the bullpen or as a starter, I’m still going to have the same mindset batter to batter. I was able to take that into the first hitter today, which was exciting.”

Kopech, 24, threw a 95 mph fastball for a called strike on his first pitch to Hernández. And he kept throwing strikes against his former organization.

The Red Sox selected Kopech with the No. 33 pick in the 2014 draft. They traded him to the White Sox in a package that also included third baseman Yoán Moncada for Chris Sale in December 2016.

“Even at 20% capacity or whatever they are here, it’s still a crazy baseball atmosphere,” Kopech said of pitching at Fenway Park for the first time. “Just the history here and so much more that makes it feel like it’s a bigger deal to step into Fenway. The fact that I got to do that as a visitor and be competitive and help my team get a chance to win, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech winds up in the first inning against the Red Sox on Sunday, April 18, 2src21, in Boston.

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech winds up in the first inning against the Red Sox on Sunday, April 18, 2021, in Boston. (Steven Senne / AP)

Sunday marked Kopech’s second start against the Red Sox. He pitched three scoreless innings in an Aug. 31, 2018, start at Guaranteed Rate Field, striking out one, and was removed from the game after a lengthy rain delay.

Sunday, he struck out one in the first, two in the second and one in the third.

Nick Madrigal and Yermín Mercedes led the way offensively. Madrigal had two hits, two RBIs and scored once. Mercedes hit a 431-foot solo home run during a three-run fourth as the White Sox built a 4-0 lead.

Matt Foster, who La Russa said was another option to start in Game 2, followed Kopech. He pitched well, allowing one hit and striking out two in 1⅔ innings for the win. Garrett Crochet (one-third of an inning), Evan Marshall (one inning) and Liam Hendriks (one inning) closed it out as the White Sox returned to .500 (8-8).

For Kopech, Sunday served as a sneak preview of what’s down the line.

“Definitely for me, a taste of what’s to come hopefully,” he said. “Kind of a smaller sample size, but I think that’s all the better. Once I get to a point where I’m built up to be a starter and in the rotation — whenever that is, if that’s next year or whatever, I’m not sure — as long as I’m ready for that role then, then I have this to look back on, like, ‘Oh, you can be comfortable up there.’ ”

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