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Kopech goes seven for first time, fans 10

Fifth-ranked Red Sox prospect allows infield hit, lowers ERA to 1.23
August 24, 2016

On Wednesday night, Michael Kopech accomplished one feat for the third start in a row and accomplished another for the first time as a professional. 

The fifth-ranked Red Sox prospect allowed one hit and recorded 10 strikeouts over a career-high seven scoreless innings as Class A Advanced Salem cruised past Potomac, 9-1.

It was the third start in a row in which Kopech -- who averages 14 strikeouts per nine innings -- fanned at least 10 batters. 

"Getting through seven is big," Salem pitching coach Paul Abbott said. "I feel like the seventh inning is what the standard is for starters everywhere to get to, and when you're knocking on that door you start putting pressure on yourself to get there. Him getting through that and finishing it the way he did, feeling that fresh and looking that sharp, that will ease his mind going forward."

Kopech found his groove early, striking out Bryan Mejia to open the bottom of the first. After issuing a four-pitch walk to Austin Davidson, the 20-year-old right-hander retired nine in a row until Max Schrock, who's hitting .341, legged out an infield single with one out in the fourth. 

"He's maturing before our eyes. That walk could have happened at any time and previously he'd show, at times, some slight immaturity," Abbott said. "It bothered him when guys would get on base. He just wants to go out there and compete. But now he just gets back on the mound and gets the next guy out."

Pitching into the seventh for the first time since the Red Sox selected him in the first round of the 2014 Draft, Kopech showed no signs of slowing down and retired the P-Nats in order. He ended his outing with back-to-back strikeouts . 

"He can dominate with his fastball. It's got exceptional late life through the zone, but his slider has really picked up with his feel and conviction," Abbott said. "He's starting to learn how to use his slider as a wipeout pitch, and it's really coming along fast. It's just a true weapon, to give him something else to go to besides his fastball. He's got two devastating weapons."

Kopech, whose fastball was clocked at 105 mph earlier this season, was still hitting triple digits on the Pfitzner Stadium radar gun in his final inning. And that came as no surprise to his pitching coach.

"He's a big, strong kid and there's no reason why he can't keep his velocity throughout the course of the game," Abbott said. "He's been a lot more efficient lately, throwing strikes. It's encouraging that he's been able to keep his velocity up, but it isn't surprising."

Kopech made his 2016 debut on June 17 with Class A Short Season Lowell before making the jump to Salem. In 10 Carolina League starts, the Texas native has pitched to a 1.23 ERA and 0.94 WHIP.

"He's reaching midseason form now," Abbott said. "There was a sense of urgency in his own mind to make up for lost time and he's put everything behind him and is really commanding his presence on the mound. He's really evolving at a pretty rapid pace.

"He's missed some time this year and he's needed to log some innings and as he's doing that, he's learning what it takes to be a complete pitcher. And being a complete pitcher isn't just about pitchability -- it's about keeping your composure and staying consistent."

In addition to his superb numbers, Kopech has yet to allow a home run over 55 2/3 innings this season.

"He's got such an intimidating fastball that it becomes hard for the hitters to dig in and get comfortable," Abbott said. "I don't think he'll give up many homers. He hasn't given up hard contact in any of his starts."

Simon Mercedes took over for Kopech in the eighth and allowed a run on one hit with one strikeout in two innings. 

Kopech's batterymate, Jordan Procyshen, doubled twice and drove in two runs for the Red Sox, while Jose Sermo slugged a solo homer as part of a three-hit night. 

P-Nats starter Austen Williams (4-5) also went seven innings and yielded six runs on eight hits and three walks with five strikeouts. 

Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com.