Kopech sparkles on crosstown stage vs. Cubs

Kopech sparkles on crosstown stage vs. Cubs

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first Spring Training relief appearance by Michael Kopech also represented his introduction to the Cubs-White Sox crosstown rivalry during a 7-3 Cubs victory Friday at Camelback Ranch.

Based on Kopech's five strikeouts and one hit allowed over two innings, his performance piggybacking Derek Holland's 4-plus inning start would be considered a success. The organization's No. 3 overall prospect per MLBPipeline.com struck out Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella in the sixth, and then fanned Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario in the seventh.

Friday's crowd of 12,972 ranks as one of the biggest Kopech has worked in front of. He gave credit to veteran catcher Geovany Soto for an important assist.

Spring: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

"It was the way that Soto took me under his wing today," Kopech said. "I came out there and the first thing he said was, 'Let's have fun. Let's get after it.' The way he was calling pitches and being aggressive with me behind the plate, that made me more aggressive toward hitters. We fell in line, and everything worked out the way it was supposed to work out."

Kopech on his outing, Soto

Kopech prefers to start and will open the season with his 100-plus mph fastball as part of the Class A Winston-Salem or Double-A Birmingham rotation. But he's willing do whatever it takes to help the team, including pitching out of the bullpen.

At some point, the right-hander will get a chance to see the regular-season atmosphere when the Cubs play the White Sox. He received an early hint Friday.

Top Prospects: Kopech, CWS

"All I heard was, 'Kopech,' a lot. It could have been good, it could have been bad," Kopech said. "I've always taken pride in being able to block out the outside noise.

"It was more difficult today than it usually is. It's pretty intense. It's a small sample but it's kind of hard to block out some of the fans. I did a decent job of it today. But it was a pretty cool environment. It's the first time I came out of the 'pen in Spring Training as well. So I had some jitters to work out after the first batter. It felt pretty good. It was exciting."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.