Sup­port for pitcher strong, but Sox know they have to get ready with­out him

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvan­schouwen@sun­times.com | @CST_­sox­van

With­out hav­ing heard White Sox righthande­r Michael Kopech’s rea­sons for opt­ing out of the 2020 sea­son from Kopech him­self, one thing has be­come very clear since the an­nounce­ment Fri­day:

Kopech’s team­mates and coaches are un­der­stand­ing, re­spect his de­ci­sion and sup­port him fully. Catcher James Mc­Cann, pitch­ers Lu­cas Gi­olito, Gio Gon­za­lez, Aaron Bum­mer, Car­los Rodon and Dane Dun­ning, bench coach Joe McEwing, pitch­ing coach Don Cooper and gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn all have ex­pressed it in no un­wa­ver­ing terms. They are also over talk­ing about it. ‘‘We have to fo­cus on how to win games with who’s here,’’ one player said. ‘‘Ev­ery­body is look­ing ahead to July 24.’’

That’s when the sea­son be­gins against the reign­ing Amer­i­can League Cen­tral cham­pion Twins at Guar­an­teed Rate Field. And it will be­gin with­out Kopech, whose lights-out stuff po­ten­tially could have given the Sox, along with Gi­olito, two young aces to bet­ter equip them for chas­ing down the Twins.

‘‘As a team and as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, es­pe­cially us as play­ers, we sup­port Michael in every­thing he’s go­ing through,’’ Gi­olito said af­ter al­low­ing one run in four in­nings in the Sox’ in­trasquad game Mon­day. ‘‘It’s just one of those things where he doesn’t feel com­fort­able be­ing here, and it’s a very strange sea­son to be­gin with. He’s not the only player to opt out.

‘‘So it sucks not hav­ing him, but he’s go­ing to come back strong, ready to com­pete next sea­son. It is what it is. We just keep mov­ing for­ward.’’

While con­cern about Kopech’s well-be­ing — given the mys­tery sur­round­ing his de­ci­sion and the way he openly talked about his is­sues with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion in the past — have been raised, sources con­firmed a re­port Mon­day in The Ath­letic that nu­mer­ous fac­tors weighed in Kopech’s de­ci­sion not to pitch in 2020.

They in­cluded a short ramp-up pe­riod dur­ing an un­cer­tain sum­mer-camp en­vi­ron­ment lead­ing up to an ab­bre­vi­ated sea­son — all while com­ing off his re­cov­ery from Tommy John surgery. Other fac­tors in­cluded the un­cer­tainty of his role on the staff dur­ing a 60-game sea­son for a team try­ing to win and the un­pre­dictabil­ity of a sea­son un­fold­ing in the midst of a pan­demic and how it could threaten the health of those close to him. Kopech is newly mar­ried to ac­tress Vanessa Mor­gan.

The Sox’ front of­fice, led by chair­man Jerry Reins­dorf, was fully in­formed about Kopech’s con­cerns af­ter tak­ing part in nu­mer­ous meet­ings with him, sources con­firmed. Man­ager Rick Ren­te­ria had mul­ti­ple phone con­ver­sa­tions with Kopech lead­ing up to his de­ci­sion.

In mak­ing the an­nounce­ment Fri­day, the Sox ex­pressed sup­port for Kopech but de­clined to re­veal his rea­son­ing. They say they won’t dis­cuss Kopech’s de­ci­sion un­til af­ter he talks about it pub­licly, which they don’t ex­pect him to do un­til the sea­son is over. Kopech doesn’t want to be a fo­cus of at­ten­tion while the team is try­ing to win games.

The Sox just want to fo­cus on win­ning with­out Kopech, and they think they are equipped to do so. They wish their team­mate the best and are un­der­stand­ing of what­ever it was he ag­o­nized over while com­ing to his de­ci­sion.

‘‘We’re in a pan­demic,’’ Bum­mer said last week on The Score. ‘‘There is so much more go­ing on in peo­ple’s lives. To spec­u­late in my life, your life or Michael’s life, that’s an un­fair thing to do. We sup­port Michael and all the guys who are opt­ing out. It’s a per­sonal choice, and they have that right.’’


Right-han­der Michael Kopech (in spring train­ing, above, and with wife Vanessa Mor­gan, left) opted out of the 2020 sea­son for rea­sons the Sox have de­clined to re­veal.

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