Joe Kelly saw how starting pitcher Johnny Cueto was progressing at Triple-A Charlotte while the Chicago White Sox reliever was on a rehab assignment.
He gave a positive review.
“Johnny Cueto looked good,” Kelly said last week. “Johnny’s a great dude. He messes up hitters with timing, multiple looks, leg kicks, slide steps. Johnny does it to try to get guys off balance and he’s a master at it. He was commanding all of his pitches for strikes.”
Cueto joined the Sox in Kansas City and started Monday’s game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium after the team purchased his contract from Charlotte. He was terrific in his Sox debut, allowing two hits in six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Cueto didn’t figure in the decision after the Royals tied the game with three runs off Kendall Graveman in the eighth. But Luis Robert hit a two-run homer in the 10th and Liam Hendriks struck out the side for a 5-3 Sox victory.
It didn’t take long for Cueto to impress as he struck out the side in the first. He retired the first nine batters — striking out five — before surrendering a single to Whit Merrifield to begin the fourth.
He wrapped up his outing by striking out Salvador Perez with two on to end the sixth.
“He’s had a really impressive career,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said before the game. “He pitches with some style. … We’ve gone against him (when La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals) and he gives you this and he gives you that and then vice versa.”
The 36-year-old Cueto went 0-1 with a 5.17 ERA and 17 strikeouts in four starts with Charlotte after signing with the Sox as a minor-league free agent April 8.
“The road games were not his forte,” Kelly said, “just because the umpires — I’m not going to say they weren’t ready for Johnny, but when I watched him pitch with the automatic strike zone? Pfft. Good luck. He could dot.
“Some umpires give up on some of the ways 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 looks great. He’s definitely going to help us this year.”
Cueto is 135-97 with a 3.45 ERA in 330 appearances (329 starts) during a 14-year career with the Cincinnati Reds (2008-15), Royals (2015) and San Francisco Giants (2016-21).
The right-hander is a two-time All-Star (2014, 2016), finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2014 and is 2-4 with a 4.54 ERA in eight career postseason starts. He made four starts in the 2015 postseason with the World Series champion Royals.
“I said hello to him and then I told him I still feel the effects of Game 5 in the 2015 (American League) Division Series,” Sox starter Dallas Keuchel said Monday. “He stuck it to us pretty good (when I was) with the (Houston) Astros and he got traded over to the Royals.”
Cueto allowed two runs on two hits and struck out eight in that playoff game on Oct. 14, 2015, a 7-2 Royals win.
“He’s one of the best to do it for over a decade,” Keuchel said, “and it’ll be nice to watch him on (our) side now.”
Cueto went 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 22 outings (21 starts) for the Giants in 2021.
Lucas Giolito was originally scheduled to pitch Monday, but he was placed on the COVID-19-related injured list Friday. Giolito began experiencing symptoms Wednesday.
“The good part of it is all the signs are looking up on (Giolito),” La Russa said. “He’ll pitch in the series, whether it’s (Tuesday) or make an adjustment for Wednesday. That’s the good news. We’re going to wait and see.”
La Russa said Dylan Cease will start the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Game 2 is to be determined. Vince Velasquez and Keuchel are the probable Sox starters Wednesday and Thursday.
Cueto is expected to be a factor in the rotation going forward.
“We would be disappointed if he’s not,” La Russa said. “And we don’t expect to be disappointed. He’s done enough since he’s reported to Arizona (for extended spring training) and what he’s shown in Charlotte (that) we expect him to be helpful.”
In Monday’s corresponding roster move, the Sox optioned infielder Danny Mendick to Charlotte. Mendick is 5-for-23 (.217) with two doubles, one home run and three RBIs in 11 games during two stints with the Sox this season.
Source: Berkshire mont