On a frustrating team, White Sox’ Johnny Cueto is fired up to keep delivering
“You have to have some balls to go out there and perform,” Cueto said, “and I have that.”
How to put this delicately?
That’s a question that comes to mind while an athlete is referencing part of his body and accentuating the point by hanging both arms in semicircles well below his own belt — down to his knees, even.
“Cojones,” pitcher Johnny Cueto said more than once Thursday in the White Sox’ dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Oh, the anatomy!
Before the series finale against the Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field, a reporter wanted to know why it is that Cueto, 36, keeps delivering for the Sox despite his previous team having given up on him, despite his advanced age and unusually short, squat stature, despite his quick-pitches and shoulder shimmies on the mound that evoke a beer-drinking 16-inch softball pitcher more than they do a finely tuned professional athlete.
“I don’t think that your body matters as much as your balls,” Cueto said via translator Billy Russo. “You have to have some balls to go out there and perform, and I have that.”
Do the rest of the Sox have enough of it? That has been a topic of discussion since an embarrassing 8-3 loss in Kansas City on Aug. 10, after which Cueto questioned his team’s “fire.” And this topic won’t be going anywhere for as long as the two-steps-forward, two-steps-back Sox just kind of hang around unimpressively near the top of baseball’s worst division.
Saturday in Cleveland, Cueto will put his streak of nine straight quality starts on the line against the first-place Guardians. The last Sox pitcher with nine of those in a row was Carlos Rodon in 2018, when it didn’t exactly mean a whole lot on a 100-loss team. This season, Cueto has made clutch look easy, allowing three or fewer runs in 15 of his 16 starts since the Sox brought him up from the minors May 16.
Watching Cueto reach for a doughnut in the clubhouse before a bullpen session in between starts, one might have noted that he’s as close to his listed height of 5-11 as a strawberry glazed is to broccolini. But this is a bad man the Giants let walk away after last season, and this is a man the often lifeless, often fire-less Sox would be a completely lost cause without. Perhaps it’s more than this team deserves that it can just throw Cueto out there against anybody and pretty much bank on seven innings of good stuff.
“I just try to go out there and be perfect, try to be as perfect as I can,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 10-foot-10. What matters is, Do you have the balls to do it? I do.”
At least somebody around here is fired up.
“My arm feels like a baby’s arm,” Cueto said. “I’m just going to be doing my best and trying to win and displaying that fire I have to win.”