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White Sox win, 5-3, almost backing up Cueto’s six shutout innings

It got a little hairy near the end, but Luis Robert won the game in extras.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals
Johnny Cueto is back, and was very good.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Hey, new White Sox ace Johnny Cueto learned a thing or two about pace of play, with the pitch clock rules he encountered in Charlotte speeding him through the first four innings of his amazing debut on Monday.

Seriously, was Mark Buerhle out there?

And what Buerhle didn’t do, that helps Cueto immensely, was playing around with his delivery.

Cueto left after six innings of shutout baseball, which is absolutely the best possible ask of an older pitcher making his first start of the season after getting a late start to the year after signing a minor league contract. In fact, it will be almost impossible to follow up.

But tonight, Cueto was an artist. He used his delivery to fool batters into eight swings-and-misses, but he also used his pitches a little differently compared to last season.

Baseball Savant

From the table above, tonight’s arsenal was slider, sinker, four-seamer, and his change. Last year, Cueto used the fastball (36%) the most, along with his change (23.7%), slider (23.2%), and sinker (15.3%). Maybe this was the game plan for the Royals, or maybe this is the pitcher Cueto is going to be, pitch-mix wise, going forward.

Cueto left the game with a 3-0 lead, with the first run coming from Adam Engel and Andrew Vaughn. Engel got a hustle double on a batted bloop that had an expected batting average of .020. Vaughn drove him in with a sac fly after Engel stole third.

But the big runs came from a guy the White Sox really need to start hitting.

That was Yasmani Grandal’s first homer of the season, believe it or not, and it was much-needed insurance for the bullpen, because they blew it the White Sox lead. Well, OK, Matt Foster had a clean inning, but Kendall Graveman really struggled in the eighth. The sinker was getting hit around, and he allowed three runs to make it a new ballgame. The hitting around included a near-homer from Whit Merrifield, whose wRC+ will definitely be more than 32 now.

Things settled down for Ryan Burr in the ninth, and that gave Luis Robert an opening to take the lead himself in extras.

Robert hammered this ball for 425 feet and a cool 104 mph off of the bat for the go-ahead and winning runs. Liam Hendriks came in to save the game and the bullpen from further misery, with three batters up and three batter punched out, leaving the zombie runner at second. Great pitching to start, and then to end it for the White Sox.

José Abreu did see the ball better. He reached three times, and had an out with an exit velocity of 100 mph. The Sox need both Abreu and Grandal to be good, because if the aging curve is crushing them in 2022, the White Sox postseason chances are crushed as well. Maybe things are starting to turn around. Or hey, maybe this was more about playing the Royals.

It’s a split doubleheader tomorrow, with coverage from Leigh Allan (recap), Zach Hayes (Six Pack) and Kristina Airdo (combined Bird App) getting us going in the afternoon.