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Back during the rebuild, Rick Hahn used to arrange key pitching promotions around the schedule to give a prized prospect a little bit of a runway. Guys like Reynaldo López, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech might look ready in time for a start at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field, but if the Sox could wait an extra turn for a softer introduction against the Tigers or Pirates, he would indulge the luxury.
Johnny Cueto, he of a lifetime 135-97 record and three top-six Cy Young finishes, doesn’t carry the same concerns about stunted development, but with no spring training and just four starts in Triple-A to judge his stuff, a Royals team that just fired its hitting coach was that same sort of welcome gateway to MLB competition.
Cueto seized the opportunity on Monday night with six shutout innings. He allowed just a double, a single and two walks while striking out seven, and he did it on the strength of his fastballs. His four-seamer and two-seamer were practically interchangeable, in the sense that he had great movement on both and was happy to ride either pitch to the upper corners.
His command was impeccable early, with those fastballs clipping the zone and the sliders thwarting hitters who anticipated the pitch running toward them.
It started to get away from him during the second half of his outing…
… and that was reflected in the results:
- First three: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K
- Last three: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 1 K
But that’s not unique to him or his non-standard offseason and April. The question is whether a better offense would find the array from the first three innings a little less overwhelming than the Royals did, making the second-time-through comedown a little more punishing. Cueto didn’t make mistakes early, so the burden of proof would be on the theoretical offense, not the pitcher. Cueto couldn’t have fared any better relative to the expectations, making his next start something to look forward to, whenever that is.
White Sox fans will get to watch a second debut in as many days, although Cueto probably made an encore next to impossible. Davis Martin is set to take the mound for his first-ever MLB appearance for a start in Game 2 of today’s doubleheader, with Dylan Cease taking the mound in Game 1.
The White Sox accommodated Davis on the 40-man roster by transferring Garrett Crochet to the 60-day injured list. As for the 26-man roster, the White Sox made room for him and 27th man Kyle Crick by placing Michael Kopech to the paternity list.
Martin has been a mildly intriguing prospect since the White Sox signed him for slightly over the third-day max after selecting him out of Texas Tech in the 14th round of the 2018 draft. At his best, he posted enviable strikeout-to-walk ratios while showing the ability to work six innings or longer with a well-rounded arsenal. At his shakiest, his misses gravitated toward the center of the zone and the ball could jump out of the park.
Then Martin went and redefined “his best” during the first month and a half of the 2022 season, with a 2.50 ERA and 41 strikeouts to nine walks over 36 innings between Birmingham and Charlotte. He’s still giving up a homer every six innings, but the fastball has gained some jump (it now hits 95-96 with carry), and he’s liking a changeup a little more, too. In fact, he’s strengthened his career-long effectiveness against lefties, to where righties are more likely to hit him hard.
That suggests some inconsistency with his slider and curve, but it could make him harder to game-plan against. Were Jimmy Lambert available for this spot start, the opposing manager could merely stack his lineup with lefties and turn his attention toward other matters.
Again, here’s a case where the Royals are the ideal initial assignment for a prospect like Martin. That’s not so much a comment on the quality of opponent, because Kendall Graveman will tell you that they can spring a surprise attack at any time. Particular to this case, Martin’s chief concern is keeping all the fly balls he allows in the park, the Royals have hit the second-fewest homers in baseball, and Kauffman Stadium doesn’t allow many cheapies. He threw seven straight out of the zone in his first inning for Charlotte before settling in, so his first opponent will be his nerves.