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Johnny Cueto isn’t that Johnny Cueto anymore.
But that’s not stopping the White Sox, or at least their manager, from getting really excited about the one-time Cy Young type’s potential arrival on the South Side.
“With what we’ve got ahead of us, (the White Sox play 19 games in the next 18 days), there’s an important role for Johnny,” Tony La Russa said Monday. “You’re never going to have enough starting pitching, and you’re never going to have enough relievers. We just need deep depth in both of those.
“Looking forward to having him here in Chicago.”
That jibes with comments La Russa has made in the recent past, talking about how badly the team could use Cueto, who’s currently pitching at Triple-A Charlotte.
Cueto was initially signed to a minor league deal and viewed as little more than a potential depth option for these White Sox, who had little idea what the veteran would be able to do after posting a 4.59 ERA and dealing with some notable injury issues in his past three seasons with the Giants.
But even as the results have not been spectacular, by any stretch – Cueto owns a rather yucky 6.10 ERA after three appearances – he sounds destined to make his big league arrival relatively soon.
Talking Monday, Rick Hahn was less emphatic than La Russa.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” the general manager said. “We are in an arduous stretch right now. It would be foolhardy for me to sit here and believe the exact roster today is the exact one we are going to come out of two weeks from now. Johnny had one bad inning in his last outing down in Charlotte. … He was able to get up to a little over 70 pitches, which was a good step forward.
“He’s still someone who I believe will be able to help us in Chicago at some point. His next start will be in Charlotte, and we’ll go from there.”
Well then, we know Cueto won’t be here imminently, not if he’s making his next appearance with the Triple-A affiliate.
Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Vince Velasquez will be the White Sox’ three starters in the current series against the Guardians. It would not be surprising to see Dylan Cease, Dallas Keuchel, Kopech and Giolito in this weekend’s four-game set with the Yankees. It’s next week’s five-game series in four days in Kansas City where things get a little interesting.
But what’s truly interesting is not when Cueto would get his first big league chance with the White Sox but at whose expense. Because of the doubleheader against the Royals next Tuesday, that might not be readily apparent. But dating back to spring training, La Russa seemed rather opposed to a six-man rotation, while Hahn counted such an outcome as one of myriad options Monday.
Velasquez has been much improved of late, even though he was the guy on in fill-in duty for the injured Lance Lynn, who’s expected back early next month. Prior to Lynn’s springtime injury, though, Velasquez was readying for a swingman role, and moving him back to the bullpen while the White Sox collect data on Cueto and the rest of their rotation might strike as the easiest move. But there’s the whole “don’t fix what ain’t broken” thing, and Velasquez has had the high hopes of the organization since it signed him in the spring.
Keuchel remains a fan-favorite target for jettison from the starting staff, even after he allowed just two runs in his most recent outing Sunday in Boston. Certainly the left-hander owns the most impressive resume on the White Sox’ staff, with a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and five Gold Gloves in his trophy case. But he’s struggled to escape from his 2021 woes, still with a 5.1 BB/9 even after only one walk over six innings Sunday.
“It was a really good performance by Dallas. It was good to see,” Hahn said. “I think it was a positive for him. Yeah, it’s good to see. It was a little more what we were used to in terms of location and movement on his pitches.”
Keuchel would come with a hefty price tag, if the White Sox decided they wanted to abandon their belief in a 2022 bounce back and cut ties with the lefty. That might be all the reason more to shift Velasquez to a relief role to make room for Cueto.
All that remains a mystery, though, and the White Sox have plenty of options to consider, as Hahn referenced in his media session Monday.
But certainly the team is voicing a strong belief that Cueto can help this rotation, whether that be in the time before Lynn makes his return or over a longer stretch of this six-month marathon.
“I think it would be cool,” Giolito told CHGO. “I got the chance to meet him down in Arizona, when I went down there (during my injury recovery). I’ve watched him pitch for a long time. I haven’t had the chance to be his teammate.
“He brings yet another awesome veteran presence. He’s been doing it for a very long time. He’s got a lot of creative stuff, as well. I’d love to ask him about all his different deliveries.”
Giolito’s at least heard about Cueto from his good friend and pitching coach. Prior to coming to the White Sox, Ethan Katz was the Giants’ assistant pitching coach and apparently shared a hobby with Cueto that Giolito’s not too interested in taking up himself.
“Ethan talks about them running, like doing conditioning,” he said. “I’m not a running guy, so it’s not really for me. But Ethan and Cueto would get after it. They would go to the field and run stadiums, up and down the concourse a lot.
“I’m happy for them, but you won’t see me doing that.”
As for when we’ll see Cueto at all? Good question.
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