White Sox' Dylan Cease 3-for-3, but his great pitching means more

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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Cease goes 3-for-3, but great pitching means more for Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

No, Dylan Cease is probably not going to be the White Sox solution in center field.

How insane is it that I have to say "probably"?

Pitching in a National League ballpark Tuesday night, Cease faced live pitching for the first time since he was a senior in high school. And he flabbergasted everyone inside and outside the yard with a three-hit performance, doing something that no American League pitcher had done since some guy named Boo Ferriss in the 1940s.

RELATED: José Abreu: 'Sometimes, people are unfair' to Tony La Russa

"A guy that don't pick up a bat in I don't know how long, and he gets in there and barrels three pitches?" White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said after a 9-0 thumping of the Cincinnati Reds. "I mean, that's pretty good."

Yeah, it is.

Cease, swinging José Abreu's bat and wearing Adam Engel's batting gloves, had a couple singles sandwiched around a double off the wall in right field that nearly made it out for a home run. He confirmed after the game he thought it was gone.

"I would have tried to have kept the grin off my face," he said, asked what would have happened had it left the yard. "I think I would have had a grin to a big smile all the way around the base paths."

But here's the thing about Cease's offensive outburst: It wasn't even the most impressive part of his performance Tuesday.

It was less than a week ago that Cease had yet to go five innings in a start this season, some of the things that plagued him during a disappointing 2020 campaign once again popping up as he searched for consistency. But then came a complete-game shutout in a seven-inning doubleheader game against the Detroit Tigers. And then came Tuesday's effort against the Reds, one of baseball's most potent offenses, in which Cease threw six scoreless, one-hit innings and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts.

Cease isn't going to make many more strolls to the plate this season — though White Sox manager Tony La Russa apparently has a viable pinch-hitting option in the right-hander — but he is going to make a lot more strolls to the mound. And that's where he'll be the most effective for the White Sox, especially if he can keep throwing like this.

"He actually pitched better than he hit, that’s kind of hard to believe," La Russa said after the game. "That’s really important going forward, the more he can develop that mindset where he avoids distractions.

"You can see him maturing right before your eyes."

Cease came to spring camp a mystery. While it was hoped that working with new pitching coach Ethan Katz could unlock his potential, it was unknown what he could give the White Sox, and it seemed as if he was among the team's biggest X-factors in whether it'd be able to achieve its sky-high World Series goals.

The same was true of Carlos Rodón, who wowed during the season's first month by throwing a no-hitter and seemingly giving the White Sox a starting-pitching option past their 1-2-3 punch of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn. Suddenly, Cease is doing the same kind of impressing, and it's worthwhile to wonder just how dominant this rotation could be once October rolls around.

"It's been very fun to watch from afar," Cease said of what's been a top-notch rotation for the White Sox so far this season, "but being a part of it is incredible, too.

"I feel like if we're filling up the zone with our stuff, we've got really nasty stuff. So it's as simple as staying on the field, going in with a plan, executing and giving it everything we have."

Simplicity has indeed been the key for Cease, who has lessened his focus on mechanics thanks to an impactful conversation with Lynn. It just might end up the cause of an early season turnaround.

"He basically just asked me what I was focusing on. And I told him about how my body was moving and all these things that didn't matter," Cease explained. "He said that he had been there before but to really lock in on where my target is and how I'm trying to shape pitches. And it was really that simple."

Even after the White Sox lost Luis Robert for months to a complete tear of his hip flexor, there's reason to dream big for this team. And the back end of the starting rotation might just go from the biggest question mark to the biggest reason to believe that October glory is still possible.

Rodón provided the forecast in April: "Look out for Dylan Cease." We just didn't know he meant at the plate, too.

While what Cease did from the mound was the most important thing for the White Sox on Tuesday, what aspect of his game made him the most proud?

"Gotta go with the way I hit," he said with a grin.

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