Tony La Russa ‘surprised’ by Johnny Cueto questioning White Sox’ ‘fire’

“I think it’s a curious statement,” La Russa said. “It’s better to be discussed within the family. If there’s a problem, straighten it out.”

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White Sox manager Tony La Russa.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa wasn’t pleased with pitcher Johnny Cueto questioning the team’s fire.

LM Otero/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — White Sox manager Tony La Russa didn’t like hearing right-hander Johnny Cueto’s questioning of the team’s “fire” after its 8-3 loss to the Royals on Wednesday night.

That’s to be expected. A lack of fire or energy never reflects well on the manager, especially for a team that considered itself a World Series contender but is shuffling around at .500 in the middle of August.

“I think it’s a curious statement,” La Russa said Thursday morning before the Sox closed out an eight-game road trip with a 5-3 loss that dropped them to .500 for the 21st time this season. “It’s better to be discussed within the family. If there’s a problem, we’ll straighten it out.

“I heard that he said that, and I was surprised he said that. His opinion is welcome, and it also carries weight; the guy is experienced. I’ll ask him about it.”

Cueto spoke after pitching six innings of three-run ball, allowing two earned runs.

“We need to fight,” Cueto said through translator Billy Russo after the game. “We need to show the fire that we have — if we have any.”

It’s known that Cueto’s viewpoint is shared by some in the clubhouse.

“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but sometimes [the fire is] there, sometimes it’s not,” Lucas Giolito said Thursday. “To climb out of the position we’re in takes a lot of fight, takes some fire. Playing with purpose. We’re all trying, but it’s not about trying. It’s about doing, and you have to have that energy, that passion.”

And it has been hard to characterize the Sox as a fiery team when players were given passes on running hard for the purpose of preserving sore legs while opponents go all out.

Andrew Vaughn, who homered in the ninth inning in the series finale, said he agrees with Cueto.

“Yeah, I think so,” Vaughn said. “I’m not a big rah-rah guy, pretty quiet and soft-spoken. Whatever guys need to get themselves going on the field is great.”

Struggling to score runs, playing poor defense and not running the bases well has done nothing to make the team look energized, either. While ace Dylan Cease was holding the Royals to one run through six innings Thursday afternoon, the Sox blew three big scoring chances in the first six innings against Zack Greinke.

Embraced by fans when their contention window opened in 2020, the Sox charged hard with a “change the game” motto and were a visibly more fun bunch to watch in what was Rick Renteria’s last season. La Russa was hired out of retirement by chairman and friend Jerry Reinsdorf after 2020 to take the Sox to the World Series, and they won 93 games but lost in the first round to the Astros last season.

La Russa has lauded his team’s “fight” and “guts” throughout the season, and he strongly defended them after Thursday’s loss as he often does. As for lacking fire, he pointed to a slick double play turned by second baseman Josh Harrison and rookie shortstop Lenyn Sosa behind Cueto.

“How did that happen?” La Russa said. “They weren’t fired up?”

Asked why he was surprised by Cueto’s remarks, La Russa paused at length and chose his words carefully.

“He’s a veteran, we all respect him and he’s someone to listen to, but it’s surprising for . . . usually that’s better said in the clubhouse in front of your teammates,” La Russa said.

The Sox are 8-8 during a stretch of 19 games against teams with losing records.

“It’s not even a switch [that needs to be turned on],” La Russa said. “The switch is on. We’re in a position to get hot. Talk is cheap.”

Perhaps Cueto thought his words would fire up his teammates.

“Everyone in here knows he goes out and gives everything he’s got,” Harrison said. “So if it’s something he might have seen . . . and more of the fire is about putting it together consistently. It’s no secret we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like. Sometimes that comes with energy here and there.”

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