The Charlotte Knights are playing a role in one of the few bits of drama surrounding this year’s Chicago White Sox organization.
The Michael Kopech Watch is under way with White Sox fans, whose team has the worst record in Major League Baseball and is winning two games for every five it loses. Kopech – or, at least, the promise of what Kopech can bring – is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak baseball landscape on the South Side.
Kopech, a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher, is among the top prospects in the White Sox organization. Since spring training, fans and the media following the White Sox have wondered when Kopech will get the inevitable call to the majors.
Some fans thought it would come Friday, when Chicago sent pitcher Carson Fulmer down to Charlotte after a series of rough outings against major league hitting.
Instead, the White Sox promoted 26-year-old Dylan Covey, who had a 2.33 earned run average in seven starts with the Knights. Chicago expects to have injured pitcher Carlos Rodon, an N.C. State alum, back in the rotation in about a week, so the need to fill Fulmer’s roster spot might be short-lived.
But Kopech’s time in the minors is limited.
He was hit hard by the Durham Bulls in a May 11 appearance, but Knights’ manager Mark Grudzielanek gave Kopech an extra day’s rest and then started him Friday night in Columbus. Kopech responded by throwing two-hit ball over seven innings and striking out nine.
“I was fired up about it,” Kopech told the website milb.com, speaking about his Friday start. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. I want it back.’ It was time for me to go out there and get my redemption.”
Here’s a look at how the Knights fared during the past week, plus a look ahead:
Tuesday: The Knights opened a remarkable series of games in Toledo with a 3-2 loss to the Mud Hens. Remember that score. Covey went six innings, allowing just four hits and no earned runs. Patrick Leonard and Mason Robbins each had two hits for Charlotte.
Wednesday: Another day, another 3-2 loss to Toledo. Right-hander Jordan Stephens, recently called up from Class AA, made his AAA debut and after allowing two runs in the first, he threw five shutout innings. Of his 83 pitches, 60 were strikes.
Thursday: The series in Toledo ended with … you guessed it, a third straight 3-2 loss. Relievers Xavier Cedeno and Jeanmor Gomez each tossed an inning of hitless ball, in relief of starter T.J. House, who went six innings and allowed three runs.
Friday: This time, the result was different. The score was 1-0, and the Knights beat Columbus. Kopech’s pitching was superb, but so was the relief work of Rob Scahill and Juan Minayo, each of whom tossed an inning of hitless ball.
Saturday: Columbus won 8-4 on a walk-off grand slam homer in the bottom of the ninth – by none other than Providence High product Richie Shaffer. Charlotte had a season-high 13 hits, with second baseman Jake Elmore going 3-for-4.
Sunday: The Knights suffered their fourth one-run loss in a week, falling 2-1 to Columbus. Starting pitcher Tyler Danish gave up a two-run homer to Yu Chang, but Danish and four relievers only allowed two other hits. Charlotte’s Patrick Leonard singled home a run in the top of the ninth, but Leonard was left stranded on second.
Week ahead: The Knights open an eight-game home stand Monday, facing Norfolk at 7:04 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then Indianapolis comes to town for Memorial Day weekend, with games at 7:04 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and at 2:05 p.m. on Memorial Day.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle