Cease looks every bit an ace at altitude

April 23rd, 2024

DENVER -- Start with a big dose of on the mound, and you’ve already got the foundation for a gem of a pitching performance. Add Austin Gomber in his best form of the season, and the ingredients fell into place for a high-altitude Coors Field pitchers’ duel, of all things.

While Gomber’s five innings of one-run ball were “Coors quality,” Cease was several steps above in the Padres’ 3-1 victory on Monday night in the series opener against the Rockies.

The right-hander delivered his fourth straight start of six innings or more and two runs or fewer. Cease’s latest gem featured seven innings of one-hit ball, no walks and eight strikeouts, and it was historic: No one had ever pitched that many innings with one or no hits and no walks at Coors.

“That was probably my best game so far,” Cease said. “I really had a good feel for pretty much all my pitches. It's very fun when it's like that.”

The Padres took the lead in the third inning on Jurickson Profar’s two-out RBI single.

The Rockies bounced back when Charlie Blackmon opened the fourth with the only blemish on Cease’s line, a double off the right-center-field wall. Blackmon advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sac fly by Ryan McMahon.

Manager Mike Shildt, no stranger to crazy games in Colorado, was in a good position to put the outing in perspective.

“It's the best one I've seen,” Shildt said of Cease’s performance in the Mile High City. “I've seen some good ones, actually, but that was dominant. That was impressive. That was outstanding. Seven strong innings. They manufacture a run on him, but, man, what a win. Impressive performance. He was in control the whole time.”

Cease was unfazed by the headaches Coors Field gives most pitchers. He said he was locked in by the time he finished his pregame bullpen session.

“I’d thrown some off-speed in spots I wasn't super thrilled with, and I really just had to commit to changing my sights. [Pitching coach] Ruben [Niebla] helped me a lot with that. And once I committed to it and got a rhythm, it was just automatic.”

Mastering the dynamics of pitching in Colorado took some adjustment, but Cease kept it simple.

“You just got to go into it knowing how your stuff might play differently,” Cease said. “But at the end of the day, if you're not willing to go in and attack, you're not going to win. I'm aware of how my stuff plays, and I just had to figure out where to start some pitches. I just had to aim it in different spots.”

Cease has allowed only one hit to a right-handed batter in 29 2/3 innings this season -- San Francisco’s Tom Murphy on March 30. Righties are hitting .019 (1-for-52) off Cease this season.

“I'm just difficult on righties,” Cease said. “I got multiple breaking pitches, fastball ride. And then, when I'm commanding it, I just give them a tough look. I don't want to jinx myself. That will probably end at some point, but I'm very pleased with where things are right now.”

Shildt chalked up the dominance against right-handers to Cease’s devastating slider.

“The slider’s really nasty,” Shildt said. “Sometimes you take a step back and just appreciate greatness. He throws some sliders, it's like, ‘whoa!’ So that doesn't necessarily surprise me with that outlier of a pitch.”

Cease also credited a different array of pitches for a successful game plan Monday. He said he didn’t throw any changeups, and he noted a new sweeper and cutter that he’s still figuring out.

An eighth-inning rally from the Padres broke a 1-1 tie. With two outs, Luis Campusano doubled to left against reliever Nick Mears. Pinch-hitter Tyler Wade plated Campusano with a single to left. Jackson Merrill drove Wade home with a single to left.

“He's electric; he has one of the best arms in here,” Merrill said, keeping the focus on Cease. “I'm very thankful that we acquired him through the trade. It was so worth it. He’s disgusting, he’s young and he knows what he's doing out there.”