Chicago’s Michael Kopech on track in comeback from knee injury

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – When Michael Kopech started throwing again after right knee surgery, he felt a sense of relief.

It was a real issue that prevented him from being himself for much of last season with the Chicago White Sox.

“Absolutely. There’s a little bit of relief knowing that I wasn’t just trying hard and it not coming out last year,” Kopech said. “There was something that I had to fight through, which take it with a grain of salt. I’m going to battle through everything that I have to battle though. But ultimately, I want to be as healthy as I can and I’m on track to do that now.”

The 26-year-old Kopech went 5-9 with a 3.54 ERA in a career-high 25 starts in 2022. But he left a June 12 game against Texas with right knee discomfort, and it became a lingering issue for the rest of the year.

The right knee trouble quite possibly played a role in Kopech going on the 15-day injured list in August with left knee discomfort. He went back on the IL on Sept. 17 with right shoulder inflammation, ending his season.

Kopech said he showed up early to spring training this year to finish his rehab, and he thinks he will be ready for the start of the season.

“I’m at a point where the knee’s feeling better, the shoulder’s feeling better,” he said Friday. “But it’s just kind of smoothing things out and getting back to 100 percent.”

It has been more than seven years since Chicago acquired Kopech in the December 2016 trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox. Since his big league debut with the White Sox in 2018, the hard-throwing right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Kopech missed the 2019 season after he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

“It kind of flies by, I still feel like I’m 22,” he said. “My body might disagree with me but I still feel like a young kid in this game. Hopefully I have a few more years that are still youthful and strong. I’m going to do everything I can to be as impactful in this game as I can.”

He was certainly impactful at several points last year. He had five starts in 2022 when he pitched at least five innings and allowed one hit or fewer. One of those was a dominant performance against Detroit when he struck out a career-high 11 in six hitless innings, and he also had a gem at Yankee Stadium when he permitted one hit in seven scoreless innings.

But Chicago finished 81-81 in a disappointing season.

“You probably heard multiple guys in the clubhouse say we have something to prove to ourselves, to the fans, to the league,” Kopech said. “We should have had a better season last year. We have the talent, we always seem to have the talent. It’s a matter of coming together and doing the little things right.”

First-year manager Pedro Grifol said he is just looking for Kopech to stay healthy this spring.

“He’s got to go through the process, but he’s right on pace to be where we want him to be at the start of the season,” Grifol said.

Doval escapes in the 9th as Giants hold off Yanks 7-5

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NEW YORK (AP) Camillo Doval retired Giancarlo Stanton on a game-ending, double-play grounder with the bases loaded and the San Francisco Giants hung on for a 7-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday.

Doval gave up Aaron Judge’s RBI single in the ninth, the slugger’s third hit, but earned his first save when Stanton hit a ground ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who started a double play that withstood a video review. Second baseman Thairo Estrada made a low throw to first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr., who scooped the ball.

“Live and it looked before they paused, he kept it long enough,” Crawford said of Estrada. “LaMonte was definitely on the bag. I wasn’t too worried.”

There were four pitch clock violations, the most of any game in the first three days of the new rule. Two were by Doval in the ninth inning, and the Giants’ Taylor Rogers and the Yankees’ Albert Abreu had one each.

“We didn’t see any of that sort of thing in spring training,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “We saw a good mastery of it. This is a different environment and it’s understandable that things sped up a little bit, but no pitcher’s going to survive giving away balls like that. It doesn’t matter how good you are.”

New York’s Anthony Volpe got his first two big league hits and became the first Yankees player to steal a base in each of his first two games since Fritz Maisel in 1913. No major leaguer had accomplished the feat since Billy Hamilton in 2013.

But the 21-year-old shortstop also had Estrada’s RBI single carom off his glove as the Giants scored twice in the sixth inning for a 5-3 lead.

New York built a 2-0 lead helped by pitcher Alex Cobb’s throwing error and Stanton’s first home run, a 112 mph drive to the opposite field down the right-field line. But the Yankees went 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runs as the Giants rallied.

Joc Pederson hit a solo homer and Crawford hit a two-run drive in a three-run fourth against Clarke Schmidt, the first home run for the Giants on a 3-0 pitch since Buster Posey in the 2021 NL Division Series.

Crawford went 3 for 5 with a double and scored twice to go along with a stolen base. It was the second time in his career he a three-hit game with a double, homer, two runs scored and a steal.

“It was a good day. I guess my best game of the year so far,” Crawford said with a laugh.

Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double off Jakub Junis (1-0) tied it 3-3 in the fifth, and the Giants scored two runs in the sixth without hitting a ball out of the infield.

Wade Jr. hit a go-ahead RBI single when his soft hit went to the third base side of the mound, and David Villar scored the go-ahead run when Michael King (0-1) and catcher Jose Trevino converged and could not make a throw. King was making his return from a broken elbow last July 22.

After King struck out Michael Conforto, Estrada hit a liner to Volpe, who charged in and had the ball go off the heel of his glove. Volpe was unable to get the force at second as Crawford scored to put the Giants up 5-3.

“It was a tough one,” Volpe said. “Probably keep me up at night thinking about that. I definitely feel like I should have had it. It was on me.”

Josh Donaldson homered in the eighth off Rogers, three innings after the crowd booed Donaldson for taking a called third strike that stranded two runners.

Mike Yastrzemski added an RBI double and Crawford hit a run-scoring single in a two-run ninth off Clay Holmes.

STARTERS Schmidt allowed three runs and four hits in 3 1/3 innings. Schmidt threw a cutter that he added in the offseason 27 times, including three straight to Pederson for a strikeout in the first.

Cobb gave up two runs and four hits in 3 2/3 innings.

TRAINER’S ROOM Giants: C Joey Bart (back tightness) was a late scratch. Kapler said Bart tweaked his back in batting practice.

Yankees: RHP Luis Severino (right lat strain) threw Friday and Saturday and felt good. … OF Harrison Bader (left oblique strain) took swings in the pool Friday and Saturday and could take swings in a cage next week. … RHP Lou Trivino (right elbow strain) threw off a mound Friday.

UP NEXT New York RHP Jhony Brito makes his major league debut Sunday against San Francisco RHP Ross Stripling. — AP MLB: and