Before losing 5-3 to the White Sox in 10 innings Monday, the Royals had already fired their hitting coach. The move installed a rising star in their organization who could hold the role long term, but it is still traditionally viewed as a last-ditch act to rouse a struggling offense. In turn, the White Sox called up Johnny Cueto for his season debut, adding a two-time All-Star to the rotation whose recent track record suggests a good outcome would be the 36-year-old providing league-average innings in bulk supply.

By the end of the night, it was the move that installed a new oldest member of the White Sox roster that looked like the long-term solution. Cueto introduced himself by becoming the first White Sox pitcher to strike out the side in the first inning of his debut since Wilson Alvarez’s no-hitter in 1991. He shimmied, stutter-stepped and quick-pitched his way through six scoreless innings, striking out seven Royals hitters. He did not pile up swings-and-misses to get there. He did not challenge hitters with overpowering stuff down the pipe. He just pieced things together, repeatedly and swiftly.

“Wow!” said Tony La Russa at the first mention of Cueto’s name postgame. “That’s the Johnny Cueto you’ve seen. He’s so deceptive and whatever the fastball is, it plays harder and he spots it. He’s down and soft, and then all of a sudden he throws one by you. To be that sharp just shows you his talent and the work that he did to get ready.”

“I was working hard during the offseason in the Dominican Republic,” Cueto said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Once I sign with this team, they make a plan for me. Go to Arizona, make two starts there and from there go to Charlotte. It was good. To me, I just took it like spring training. I didn’t have a regular spring training. To me, that was a spring training time. I just built up my strength and my pitches, and the last time I threw 80 or something like that. I was ready.”

The furious nature by which the 15-year major-league veteran cut through the Royals order on 56 pitches through five innings made it stand out a bit more when he started to run through his first long counts at the end of that stretch.

“He was pitching fast and we know tomorrow we have two games,” Luis Robert said through Russo after clubbing the decisive home run in the 10th. “And I was pleased because of that.”

And by comparison, a 25-pitch sixth inning that saw Cueto allow a ringing Kyle Isbel double and lose an 11-pitch battle with Whit Merrifield for a walk seemed laborious before Cueto launched into a dead sprint from the mound all the way to the backstop in vain pursuit of a popup. But it ended with Cueto blowing away longtime White Sox menace Salvador Perez with high heat as he represented the tying run. Despite sitting just over 90 mph with his fastball variants much of the night, Cueto’s five-hardest pitches came in his sixth and final inning.

One could make the case that he still knows what he’s doing and how to allot his pitches.

“That’s what I work for,” Cueto said through Russo. “I know that I need to save energy through my outing. And then once I know that my last balls are going to be thrown, then I just go for more.”