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Young Cease fights through control problems

Rookie makes big pitches, rewards decision to let him work out of jams
@scottmerkin
September 8, 2019

CHICAGO -- When Joe McEwing came to the mound in the second inning of Sunday’s 5-1 White Sox victory over the Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field, it looked as if Dylan Cease’s day was coming to an early end. Cease walked five in the first 1 1/3 innings, stranding the

CHICAGO -- When Joe McEwing came to the mound in the second inning of Sunday’s 5-1 White Sox victory over the Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field, it looked as if Dylan Cease’s day was coming to an early end.

Cease walked five in the first 1 1/3 innings, stranding the bases loaded in the first when Kevan Smith struck out looking and then loading the bases again in the second with a walk to David Fletcher. He was fighting his command one start after setting a career high with 11 strikeouts at Cleveland.

Box score

But the White Sox bench coach and acting manager had been convinced by pitching coach Don Cooper to at least talk with Cease before summoning Josh Osich or Jimmy Cordero to face Shohei Ohtani with one out.

“I said, 'What do you got?' He goes, 'I got this, I got this.' I said, 'OK, what's your plan?’" McEwing explained. “And him and Mac (catcher James McCann) … I said, 'All right, take care of it.' It's another step in his process of being able to grind through those things. Those things are important.”

“Honestly, it was just compete and throw strikes,” Cease said. “He said, 'You got this guy?' I said, 'Yeah.' So, he let me finish it.”

Ohtani worked the count full against Cease before swinging through a 97.8-mph four-seam fastball following four foul balls. Cease then retired Albert Pujols on a routine fly ball to center fielder Adam Engel, keeping the game deadlocked.

“He was able to get Ohtani and got the next guy and was able to continue to go,” McEwing said. “We had somebody behind him every time he went out. He was basically hitter to hitter at that point.”

“It's important, but I prefer not to throw so many balls and put guys on bases. At the end of the day, as long as I keep fighting, I usually get through it,” Cease said. “It was more of a battle today. I think I went through a stretch where I had a feel for [my pitches], but definitely not good enough with my fastball command.”

José Abreu gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead in the third with his 31st home run of the season and his 600th career RBI, becoming the 13th player in franchise history to reach 600. Danny Mendick, one of the team’s September callups, knocked out his first career home run in the fifth to increase the margin, while Osich, Aaron Bummer and Alex Colome yielded one hit over 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief.

The win also pushed the White Sox to 63-80 and beyond their final win total of 62 from 2018.

Due to Cease throwing 36 pitches in the first and 30 in the second, he lasted only 3 1/3 innings. But he also allowed just one run while striking out four to go with the five walks, throwing 46 of his 88 pitches for strikes.

Certainly not ideal in Cease’s mind. But as Cease and McEwing discussed postgame, it’s another notch on his learning curve sure to pay dividends in 2020 and beyond.

“I feel almost like a completely different pitcher than when I first got called up, so it sets me on the right trajectory,” Cease said. “There's still stuff to work on, but I'm happy with the progress so far.

“Little tweaks that help me get a feel. I'm not cutting my fastball as much, and my off-speed feels better. It's just [that] I have to put it all together.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.