Cueto OK but no ‘O’ vs. O’s dooms White Sox

Seby Zavala caught Johnny Cueto’s minor league starts at Triple-A Charlotte when the 36-year-old veteran was building up his arm strength after signing a minor league contract. Zavala caught him Thursday night, getting the best seat in the house to watch one of the best pitching classics in the game.

“It’s fun to catch,” Zavala said.

Zavala needed one game catching Cueto at Charlotte to figure him out. But hitters have had a hard time doing that in Cueto’s seven starts since he joined the White Sox on May 16.

“After that we were on the same page,” Zavala said. “He throws everything everywhere in any count. Spins it, sinks it cuts it. Messes up the hitters. It’s fun.”

For the first time in the Orioles’ 4-0 win over the Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, Cueto did not last six innings, but he once again provided more than a serviceable start, leaving while trailing 2-0. Adley Rutschman, whose homer in the fourth scored the first two runs, doubled against reliever Reynaldo Lopez after Cueto was pulled by manager Tony La Russa with one out in the sixth, scoring the third run charged to Cueto.

Cueto threw 104 pitches, so that was enough. He gave up seven hits and a walk and struck out seven, matching his season high notched in his first start in Kansas City on May 16.

Cueto turns, alters deliveries, shakes and shimmies to mess with batters’ timing but he sticks to a pitching basic for success, throwing the first pitch for strikes. Before Thursday, Cueto threw strikes on 70.5 percent of his pitches, his career high and the highest mark among Sox pitchers as well as the fourth fourth-highest among pitchers with at least 40 innings.

The Sox haven’t supported Cueto with much offense this season — he was in jeopardy of falling to 1-4 despite a 3.19 ERA, and it was more of the same for a lineup without Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jimenez against Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer, who lowered his ERA to 1.71 with 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

In addition to losing Danny Mendick (out for the season) and Adam Engel (hamstring strain) to the injured list, La Russa rested Robert because of a leg soreness. Jose Abreu is playing with a sore hip and Andrew Vaughn has leg soreness. Robert, who was running at far less than full speed before being pulled in Wednesday’s 9-5 loss to the Blue Jays that dropped the Sox to 33-34, was given a day off.

“He’s got an issue he’s had before so we are going to let it quiet down,” La Russa said. “I expect he’ll play [Friday].

“When you run with the speed that he does, and as often as he does defensively and on the bases, you are going to get sore. Look at the range of games we are playing in a row, today’s the [day off] to pick after a day game and not until tomorrow night. It gives him max amount of time to treat it and rest it.

“We always tell them run to what your legs feel like. The most obvious thing is there’s guys that can steal and if their legs are barking we tell them don’t push it.”

Gavin Sheets, back from Triple-A Charlotte, doubled in the fourth and pushed it when third base coach waved him home on Leury Garcia’s single, but right fielder Austin Hays threw him out to end the inning, the major league leading 13th time the Sox have been thrown out at home.

The Sox threw out Cedric Mullins at home in the second when left fielder AJ Pollock tracked down Trey Mancini’s double and teamed with shortstop Tim Anderson and Zavala on a well-executed relay. Anderson and Zavala both picked throws from the dirt.

The Sox made plenty of hard contact with nothing to show for hit, hitting two drives to the wall (Pollock in the third, Abreu in the sixth), and they watched O’s outfielders make great (Austin Hays) and good (Mullins) catches on well-struck balls by Jake Burger and Sheets in the eighth.

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