118 pitches? No problem for Sox 'bulldog' Cueto

July 15th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Johnny Cueto was already at 103 pitches -- one off his season high -- after five mostly effective innings in Minnesota on Thursday night.

The 36-year-old right-hander wasn’t done. Cueto talked to White Sox manager Tony La Russa in the dugout and said he wanted another inning. La Russa gave it to him on one condition -- any baserunner would end his night.

Cueto got another full inning.

He struck out the side in the sixth to cap his night, while Luis Robert had his third straight three-hit game, including his first career grand slam in the fourth inning, and Chicago cruised to a 12-2 win against the Twins.

“Nobody got on base,” La Russa said of his agreement with Cueto. “We started calling him ‘Roberto Duran’ -- ‘no mas.'”

Cueto (4-4) finished his night with 118 pitches -- tied for the fifth most in the Majors this season -- and demonstrated again just what he’s meant to the White Sox this season. He allowed one run on seven hits and struck out five.

“I think it was good,” Cueto said through interpreter Billy Russo. “Sometimes you don’t feel very good. Today, it was OK. I didn’t have the energy or the strength, but the offense supported me and I was able to complete six innings.”

Chicago has won three games in a row and started a big four-game series in Minnesota by closing within four games of the Twins with Thursday’s victory.

Perhaps it’s no surprise Cueto was a central figure. He has provided a boost to the White Sox rotation after Vince Velasquez was moved to the bullpen and Dallas Keuchel was released.

“Not only the way he pitches, but the way he is around the clubhouse and what he’s done for guys,” La Russa said. “He’s just brought so much to this club.”

Cueto has now allowed just one run over his last two starts, covering 14 innings. Of his 11 starts this season, nine have been quality, including each of his last four.

The extended pitch count didn’t seem to bother the right-hander, but La Russa said he wouldn’t have even allowed the extra inning if it wasn’t Cueto’s last start before the break.

“We actually had enough pitching for today and we’re protected for tomorrow, so everybody went out there and pitched one inning,” La Russa said. “That’s a lot of pitches, but if he was supposed to pitch five days from now, no way.”

Cueto’s teammates weren’t surprised to see him ask for another inning

“Johnny’s a bulldog and he’s always wanting the next inning,” catcher Seby Zavala said. “He always wants the ball.”

He allowed just one hit over his final three innings. Only two baserunners reached over that span, both in the fifth, but a flyout ended that threat.

“We’ve had Cueto a couple of starts now, and he’s found ways to get through innings,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You have to give him some credit for doing that. He doesn’t break.”

Cueto did get some help from left fielder AJ Pollock in the second. After one run had already scored, Minnesota had runners on the corners. Cueto got All-Star Luis Arraez to fly out to left field and Pollock threw home to get Gio Urshela at the plate.

All-Star Byron Buxton led off the third with a triple, but Cueto set down the next three hitters and stranded him.

With Cueto in control the rest of the way, the offense kept adding on in an important series. Robert’s grand slam, his 12th homer of the year, was the big blow.

Robert finished with five RBIs, a single-game career high, and was just a triple shy of the cycle. He’s now hitting .301 this season.

“When you have success, you get more animated,” La Russa said of the dugout. “But nothing really has changed, except that we’ve got three games left now. Today, celebrate everything until midnight and we’ve got the second game of the series. They’re in good shape. We need to accumulate wins.”