In a span of less than two months, right-hander Johnny Cueto has become a pitcher who has prevented the White Sox from sinking further in the American League Central.
Cueto provided another example of his worth Saturday, scattering five hits in a season-high eight innings in leading the Sox to an 8-0 victory against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Cueto’s performance kept the Sox (40-43) from falling a season-high five games below .500 and gave their bullpen some much-welcomed rest as the team gears up to play nine games in eight days until the All-Star break.
‘‘He should have been in here since Opening Day, that’s what he’s meant,’’ manager Tony La Russa said of Cueto, 36, who signed a minor-league contract April 8. ‘‘He’s picked us up when we needed it. We were talking about it earlier. It still bothers a lot of us about the records of our starting rotation. Johnny is still an under-.500 pitcher, and he’s pitched much better than that.’’
Cueto (3-4) lowered his ERA to 2.91 in 66 innings. He pitched effectively and efficiently in pitching eight scoreless innings for the 17th time in his career and for the first time since throwing a shutout against the Padres on May 23, 2016, while pitching for the Giants.
‘‘You work for this,’’ said Cueto, whose routine includes running the stadium steps the day after he pitches. ‘‘I was hoping to have a good performance. And . . . I felt like I still had something in the tank.’’
Cueto struck out five and didn’t issue a walk as he snapped the Tigers’ six-game winning streak. He also continued his mastery of former Cubs shortstop Javy Baez, who went hitless in three at-bats and now has one hit in 17 career at-bats with six strikeouts against Cueto.
Cueto trusted his stuff enough to pitch inside effectively to Baez, who has been vulnerable to breaking pitches on the outside corner for most of the season. Baez struck out on an 84 mph changeup that moved low and inside in the fourth.
‘‘In that case, I was trying to throw that changeup outside, and it ran in,’’ Cueto said with a smile. ‘‘I was lucky on that pitch.’’
The Sox are more fortunate to have Cueto, who didn’t make his first appearance until May 16. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine of his 10 starts and also pitched five innings in an emergency relief role when fellow starter Michael Kopech hurt his knee June 12.
‘‘He’s a pitching artist,’’ La Russa said, describing Cueto’s ability to pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone effectively. ‘‘All from a delivery that hides the ball well. He very rarely misses over the plate, just got the edges. [He’s] changing speeds.
‘‘By the time you slow your bat, he throws it by you. You quicken it up, and he gets you out in front. It’s just a beautiful thing to watch from our side.’’
Among Cueto’s 101 pitches were 27 changeups, 27 cut fastballs, 26 sinkers, 12 four-seam fastballs and nine sliders.
La Russa said he thought Cueto would be effective once he joined the Sox because of the way he competed against La Russa’s Cardinals from 2008 to 2011 as a member of the Reds and because of his relationship with pitching coach Ethan Katz from their days with the Giants in 2020.
‘‘Johnny and him were very honest with each other,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘I think that connection with Ethan really helped. But upstairs, they made the connection first. I give [general manager] Rick [Hahn] and his team the credit.’’