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Up to speed: Koch wants outs
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04/01/2004  8:34 PM ET
Up to speed: Koch wants outs
Remains confident high-90s velocity will return
"The more I throw, the better I am," Billy Koch said. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

TUCSON, Ariz. - The number 100 has seemed to creep up in any conversation involving Billy Koch since he came to the White Sox. The same could be said for the numbers 97, 98 and 99.

All four represent the velocity at which Koch was clocked at in the past, during stints as the closer for both Toronto and Oakland. That number was more like 93 or 94 for Koch during most of the 2003 regular season and into the current Spring Training with Chicago.

But in Thursday afternoon's game against Colorado, the 29-year-old Koch found a new set of numbers where he would like to place his focus. That would be 1-2-3.

Koch worked a perfect fourth inning against the Rockies, his first effort without allowing a baserunner since a March 11 appearance against San Diego. Koch had been scored on during four of his last five trips to the mound, but it is far from a coincidence that the right-hander pitched better on the second day of his first back-to-back work this spring.

"The more I throw, the better I am," Koch said. "Today, I felt 10 times better than I did yesterday on the mound.

    Billy Koch   /   P
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205
Bats/Throws: R/R

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"But it's the same thing with most relievers. The more times you get run out there, the more comfortable you will be on the mound and the easier you will be able to hit your spots because you were just out there."

Koch didn't get much work as a closer or anything else during the final month of last season, in what became the toughest year of his career. After saving 44 and winning 11 for Oakland in 2002, Koch picked up his last save of 2003 on June 24 at Minnesota.

The name of his game prior to arriving in Chicago was velocity, blowing his high fastball by an opposing hitter with the bases loaded and the game on the line. Now, it's all about location and mechanics for Koch, areas where he struggled mightily during his first year on the South Side.

But even with the change in his approach, the closer's mentality never left. It will be put to use when the regular season begins Monday afternoon in Kansas City, according to manager Ozzie Guillen.

"It's always there," said Koch of his late-inning intense demeanor. "Last year was tough because I was (screwed) up in the head. I didn't know what to think.


"Now, I go out there and I know I'm going to get three outs. I might give up a hit, and hopefully, I don't walk anyone. I'm extremely happy with my command this spring. I feel like I can hit a spot when I need to at any time."
-- Billy Koch

"Now, I go out there and I know I'm going to get three outs. I might give up a hit, and hopefully, I don't walk anyone. I'm extremely happy with my command this spring. I feel like I can hit a spot when I need to at any time.

"I just cleared my head out in the offseason because it was a rough year -- everything in general," added Koch of his 5-5 record, 5.77 ERA and 11 saves. "Now, I expect to go 1-2-3 every time out."

The spring numbers for Koch aren't exactly awe-inspiring, with 14 hits, four walks and seven runs allowed over 12 innings. But by Koch's calculations, only three of those 14 hits were really hit hard.

He did concede that the last week has been rough, and pointed to his effort against San Diego on Wednesday as an example of overthrowing and trying to see where his velocity stood. He got a little high on his arm slot and got out of his mechanics a little bit.

Pitching coach Don Cooper reminded Koch to just hit his spots and take a nice and easy approach prior to Thursday's action. Guillen reminded Koch after the game that getting outs in any way possible is what he expects. Guillen also made the point during his postgame media session that the days of 100 mph fastballs appear to be behind Koch.

"He never will (get the velocity back), and he better stop believing he ever will," Guillen said. "Ninety-three to 98 again. That's five miles. That's a lot of miles. I hope he does. I hope he can do it.

"I just want him to be a pitcher and get people out and try to figure out how to throw strikes and make guys do something with the ball. Build that confidence in himself. We have confidence in him, and he's a big part of the team."

Outwardly, Koch never seems to lack confidence. If it was a problem during last year's struggles, Koch hid it well behind a biting wit and an in-your-face sense of humor.

Even Thursday, Koch mentioned that 100 mph on his fastball was not out of the question somewhere down the line.

The difference now is that 100 stands as just another number, a possible target off in the future. If Koch reaches that level, he'll be doing it in a more sound mechanical way.

Speed no longer defines the White Sox closer as a pitcher.

"I'm not throwing 100 right now, but at some point in the season, I will be," Koch said. "I think it's a plus because I'm not going out there and trying to do too much. Your arm is just going to keep getting stronger, stronger and stronger throughout the year. If I am ever up there, then I will have the right mechanics to where I'm going to locate that 100 or 97 or 98 or whatever it might be."

"To be in that role (as a closer), any kind of pitcher, to pitch at the big league level, you have to throw strikes," Guillen added. "That's his biggest enemy. Command the ball, get ahead of the hitter and then you can do whatever you want to do."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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