Sunday, July 3, 2022

Cueto And The White Sox Look Like A Perfect Fit After Dazzling Debut


Johnny Cueto’s White Sox debut could not have gone much better. On Monday night in Kansas City, Cueto took the mound for his first start of the 2022 season.

Over his previous fourteen seasons in the MLB, Cueto has worn a Reds, Royals, and Giants jersey. Yet in his first appearance with the White Sox logo across his chest he looks like a perfect fit on the South Side.

As it turns out Johnny Cueto had some White Sox connections before signing with the team in April. White Sox pitching coach, Ethan Katz worked with Cueto while the two were with the Giants. To convince Cueto to do Katz’s bullpen drills he had to agree to participate in Cueto’s workout sessions. Katz admitted he struggled to keep up, which is one of the many reasons Cueto has been able to find work in the MLB for so long.

The 36-year-old pitches like a grizzled veteran. Cueto’s days of power pitching are behind him. He relies on deception to record outs these days, constantly alternating his delivery gyrating, shimmying, and hesitating. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

During his White Sox debut, he worked at a pace reminiscent of Mark Buehrle. He sprinted off the mound to try and a catch foul ball behind the backstop. Most importantly he kept hitters off-balance all night. Cueto moved the ball in and out of the strike zone and worked the corners all night.

In his first inning wearing the silver and black, he struck out the side. Whit Merrifield chased a sweeping slider, Andrew Benintendi got frozen by a filthy sinker, and Salvador Perez swung through a 91 mph fastball. It set the tone for the rest of the night.

Cueto threw a total of six innings scoreless innings. He allowed just two hits, two walks, and struck out seven. It only took him 81 pitches, 55 of those going for strikes.

Cueto’s final pitch of the night was another high fastball to strike out Perez once again. Unlike the first inning, it helped him escape a jam with runners on first and second. He exited with a fist pump and strutted off the mound with glee.

His performance came as no surprise to his new teammate Joe Kelly, who rehabbed with Cueto in Triple-A Charlotte. Despite getting roughed up a bit during his tuneup starts, Kelly was impressed with what he saw. He even offered an explanation for his struggles.

“He could dot. Some umpires give up on the way his balls move, and they move a ton. So when he’s flipping pitches and they’re strikes in the strike zone, but the umpire thinks it runs off, that might get him into trouble. But these guys up here, big league umpires, they know that. They know Johnny, they know how it moves.”

“He’s definitely going to help us this year,” Kelly added. His analysis turned out to be spot on.

Cueto’s reward for tossing six scoreless innings? A no-decision. After exiting the game with a 3-0 lead the bullpen faltered once again. Kendall Graveman coughed up the lead, in an uncharacteristically bad eighth inning.

Luis Robert was able to salvage Cueto’s debut with a clutch two-out home run in extra innings to give the White Sox a 5-3 lead. Liam Hendriks entered the game in the bottom half of the frame and slammed the door with three consecutive strikeouts.

While Cueto didn’t earn the win the pace at which he pitched left an impression on his teammates.

“It was very good,” Luis Robert told reporters through interpreter Billy Russo after the game. “I was pleased because he was pitching fast and we know tomorrow we have two games and I was pleased because of that.”

It’s only one start but if this is a preview of things to come, then Rick Hahn may have snagged the steal of the offseason.

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