Since his lights-out performance in last month's Futures Game, Michael Kopech is enjoying a nearly unstoppable run for Double-A Birmingham.
The top White Sox pitching prospect struck out 10 and allowed three hits with two walks over seven scoreless innings, but the Barons fell, 1-0, to Chattanooga on Saturday night at Regions Field.
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"It's mainly fastball command and getting ahead in counts," Kopech said. "I felt like I was pitching smarter. [The walks] were situational and they were guys that I didn't need to go to the middle of the plate to in a situation like that. I just felt like more strikes earlier in counts has really helped out this year."
In 22 starts this season, Kopech is 8-7 with a 2.87 ERA and a Southern League-leading 155 strikeouts over 119 1/3 innings. MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect struck out one in a perfect nine-pitch inning in the Futures Game on July 9. The Texas native has allowed just three earned runs with 54 strikeouts and seven walks in his last six starts.
Video: Barons' Kopech picks up 10th strikeout
"I'm pretty much an aggressive pitcher from start to finish. For me to kind of have that mentality, it can be difficult to not get too worked up," Kopech said. "I need to be an aggressive guy that takes it pitch by pitch. Each guy I face, I've looked at it as a brand new ballgame."
Saturday's performance marked his fifth double-digit strikeout effort this season and third in four starts. The 21-year-old said he threw more sinkers than usual against the Lookouts. He used the offering early in counts before running a fastball past the batter late in the count or beating them with sliders.
"I think I just did better about mixing my pitches tonight," the 2014 first-round pick said. "It kind of paid off pretty well as far as the strikeouts go."
Birmingham pitching coach Jose Bautista said the sinker is a pitch he and Kopech started developing before the season. Bautista noticed that even though Kopech's four-seamer has plenty of life and can even touch triple digits, the pitch can stay flat and sometimes be left up in the zone. The sinker, while still sitting in the low 90s, not only puts movement on the ball, but helps him work down in the zone.
"The velocity is going to be there, there's nothing special you got to do," Bautista said. "Just release it all the way down to the glove and let it sink. That sinker makes him stay through with the ball."
Kopech struck out five over three perfect innings to start the game and punched out Twins No. 2 prospect Nick Gordon on three pitches to start the fourth. Gordon struck out in each of his three appearances against Kopech on 12 total pitches.
Edgar Corcino walked with one out in the fourth and Jonathan Rodriguez doubled to left to put runners in scoring position before Kopech whiffed Andy Wilkins to end the frame. The right-hander worked around a leadoff knock by T.J. White in the fifth and allowed a one-out single to Corcino in the sixth.
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Rodriguez walked on four pitches, but Birmingham catcher Alfredo Gonzalez threw behind Corcino at second for the final out. Kopech retired the side in order in the seventh and completed his outing in which he threw 66 of 99 pitches for strikes.
The Barons turned to Colton Turner in the eighth and the left-hander surrendered a leadoff double to Ryan Walker before Gordon drove in the game's only run with a single to first baseman Nick Basto.
Chattanooga starter Dereck Rodriguez (5-2) scattered two hits and struck out five in seven innings for his first win since July 21.