Kopech pitched two scoreless innings in Chicago's 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday before being pulled when the game went into a 52-minute rain delay. He struck out four batters, including former American League MVP Joe Mauer with the last pitch he threw.
That pitch came to finish the top of the second. Mauer, who singled off Kopech to begin the game, fouled off four pitches before taking a third strike on a 97-mph fastball. It was Kopech's 52nd pitch, and shortly after he threw it, the skies over Guaranteed Rate Field opened up. The length of the delay made the call to pull Kopech an easy one.
"We didn't want to push it that first time out," said White Sox acting manager Joe McEwing, who was filling in for ailing manager Rick Renteria. "Amazing job getting that first one out of the way. He was up to 52 pitches, and with the rain lasting almost an hour, we were like, 'Let's shut him down here and end it on a positive note.'"
The White Sox are 31 games under .500, so high points have been few and far between during this rebuilding season. The club has tried to keep its fans focused on the young talent emerging from the Chicago system, including Kopech, their top pitching prospect, who dings the radar at over 100 mph on his good nights.
That anticipation was evident on Tuesday. Chicago drew more than 23,133 people for the contest, and the fans were animated before the game even started. Several rows of fans crowded around the rail above the White Sox bullpen to watch Kopech warm up.
Every time he got two strikes on a batter, the crowd would rise and roar.
"I didn't really expect that," Kopech said. "That was awesome to see the fans engaged the way they were. They really made me feel more comfortable, feel like I belonged. I just tried to do what I do best and throw strikes."
It was a first-game experience that lived up to what Kopech had long envisioned.
"After my lip [stopped] quivering and I got through that, I just treated it like another outing," Kopech said. "Obviously, my adrenaline was pumping. It was a dream come true. It was everything I thought about since I was a little kid. I was pumped."
The club announced Sunday on social media that their touted righty would debut, helping to fuel the buzz around Tuesday's contest. For Kopech, the reality of becoming a big leaguer set in when he took the mound and saw Mauer ready to face him.
"When I saw the lineup before the game and saw that was the first guy I was going to face, I don't want to say starstruck," Kopech said, "but I was a little taken aback by it. He's a guy that's had success over the years at this level."
Kopech threw mostly fastballs in his first outing, working at 96 to 98 mph. The focus on his development has been on honing his secondary pitches, and his progress in that regard was on display against the Twins. He fooled Minnesota slugger Miguel Sano with a slider for a first-inning strikeout and also threw a nice changeup to Robbie Grossman.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Kopech became the first White Sox starter to enjoy a scoreless outing in his MLB debut since Jack McDowell in 1987. It was just two innings, but scoreless is scoreless.
"I was a little bummed out," Kopech said. "I wanted to go a little deeper in the game. I didn't know my pitch count was already as high as it was anyway. Either way, I got to experience a debut, and like I said, it was a dream come true. Even though I didn't go deep in the game, it was fun out there."
After the game resumed and reliever Luis Avilan trotted in from the White Sox bullpen, there was a smattering of boos, but the crowd seemed to realize it was prudent to let Kopech call it a night. His career is but two innings old, and the fact that it took him 52 pitches to record those frames is in itself evidence that Kopech is not a finished product.
But he showed enough in those 52 pitches to tease a future of many more high-energy evenings, both from the fireballing righty on the mound and the ebullient White Sox fans who are so eager to see him pitch -- maybe almost as eager as he was to finally take the mound in a big league game.
"I did not sleep well," Kopech said. "I got about an hour of sleep after my call and had to fly up here. So last night, I made sure I went to bed early and tried to get as much as I could. But yeah, it was a whirlwind."