A true gamer: Cueto steps up in big way

June 13th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Johnny Cueto had no thoughts of pitching when he arrived at the White Sox clubhouse Sunday morning at Guaranteed Rate Field.

By the time Texas completed an 8-6 victory in 12 innings over Chicago, the veteran had covered five innings and 77 pitches on the day before he was scheduled to start Monday’s series opener in Detroit. Nothing has been remotely normal for the White Sox (27-31) during this disappointing start to a season filled with so much hope, but this game truly broke that mold.

Cueto volunteered his services to pitching coach Ethan Katz and manager Tony La Russa after starter Michael Kopech left three batters into the game due to right knee discomfort. Cueto, who has a meticulous training schedule, threw a 45-pitch bullpen on Saturday and didn’t even stretch before Sunday’s unscheduled trip to the mound.

Yet, Cueto allowed three runs and struck out four while giving a taxed bullpen and the White Sox as a whole a chance to win.

“It’s definitely different. I wasn’t ready to pitch today. I was ready to pitch tomorrow,” Cueto said through interpreter Billy Russo. “Today, I was just doing my things in the pool, the sauna. Just getting ready for tomorrow. And then this happened. You just have to go there and do your best.”

“I gotta give credit to those guys,” Texas manager Chris Woodward said. “They lost their starter early in the game and Cueto, one of their starters, came out of the bullpen and did a good job. They were doing everything they could to win the game. They kept us at bay.”

Closer Liam Hendriks also was not available Sunday, although no specific reason was given by La Russa after his team finished a 2-4 homestand. When asked twice, La Russa said Hendriks would not have been used even in a save situation but should be back for the Detroit series.

So, the White Sox were left to piece together a game with overworked bullpen arms. To their credit, they fought back from a 6-3 deficit in the 11th to score three runs on Seby Zavala’s sacrifice fly, Danny Mendick’s triple and AJ Pollock’s single. But Texas scored two in the 12th off Matt Foster, and the game ended on Jake Burger’s long one-out fly ball to left with Charlie Culberson nailing Luis Robert tagging up and trying to advance from second to third.

Robert appeared to beat the throw but came off the base with his slide. It was an ill-advised move made by Robert, with his run being meaningless in a two-run deficit.

“Felt like it wasn’t a smart move to try to advance when you’re down by two,” Culberson said. “Luckily, I made a good throw, and Ezequiel [Duran] kept the tag on him. So, it worked out in our favor.”

“You know I like aggressiveness, but that wasn’t a good play,” La Russa said. “His run means nothing, right? I’ll make sure I explain we like his aggressiveness and there’s a place for it, but that’s one place where you just read the scoreboard. It always should dictate how much you want to push, when you should push. He’s a quick learner. He won’t do it again.”

Minnesota stayed six games in front of the White Sox after a loss to the Rays, but the Guardians moved three ahead of Chicago and four in the loss column. The standings are the least of the White Sox problems, though.

Lance Lynn, who was scheduled to make his season debut on Tuesday, will come off the injured list and start Monday in Detroit. Dylan Cease moves up one day to Tuesday, having to throw his preparatory side session in the White Sox bullpen during Sunday’s loss.

They will need to fill these two games before finding a starter for Wednesday. And this whole saga follows the White Sox dropping to 0-5-3 in their last eight home series.

“That’s a really disappointing game to lose because there were so many things we did to overcome Kopech’s two-thirds, starting with [Reynaldo] López and Johnny,” La Russa said. “He went out there and gave us five. That’s his reputation. A gamer. As talented a gamer the game has seen in a long time.

“Our relievers, [Tanner] Banks kept us in the game. Obviously, we kept fighting, but we’ve got to find a way to win that game.”