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Cease shows his poise after early deficit

Touted prospect guts out five innings after allowing slam in second
@Sportsgal25
July 21, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a lot riding on Dylan Cease on Sunday. He was aiming to help the White Sox to a series sweep of the Rays, hoping to pitch well enough to continue to stick around and, at the very least, hold his own against the defending American

ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a lot riding on Dylan Cease on Sunday. He was aiming to help the White Sox to a series sweep of the Rays, hoping to pitch well enough to continue to stick around and, at the very least, hold his own against the defending American League Cy Young Award winner.

It would be a bunch to have rolling around in a rookie’s head during his third career start, but Cease is already smart enough not to think about any of that.

“All those things are out of my control,” he said. “I really just focus on what I can control, so I didn’t have any of that on my mind. It was purely, ‘What do I have to do to prepare to execute pitches?’”

While it took Cease a minute to find his footing, his response to the challenges presented to him made it clear why he’s so highly regarded not only in Chicago (he’s their No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), but in the Major Leagues (No. 17).

Box score

The events that led to the White Sox 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field were of the quick-and-dirty variety. A single sandwiched between a pair of walks to open the second inning brought up Travis d’Arnaud, who took Cease’s third pitch into the bleachers for his first career grand slam.

A 4-0 hole is a heck of a spot to be in, and everyone reacts a little differently. For Cease’s part, he appeared to do what benefited him best: Pretend it hadn’t happened. He couldn’t take back the pitch, but the way he carved through the Rays’ lineup from the next pitch on showed a maturity far beyond his 18 days of Major League experience.

“I guess it’s more motivation to throw strikes,” Cease said. “At that point, I wanted to get through five at least, and go as deep into the game as I could, but it’s out of my control, so why worry about it?”

Cease’s line -- five innings, four runs, three hits, four walks, four strikeouts -- didn’t quite do the turnaround justice. The right-hander began the game with a nine-pitch walk to Ji-Man Choi and needed 65 pitches to work through the first two innings.

Whatever control problems vexed him early seemed to vanish with d’Arnaud’s home run. Cease fanned the next hitter, coaxed Choi into a flyout, yielded a ground-rule double and ended the 44-pitch frame with a groundout.

Just when it appeared the bullpen might be pressed into early service, Cease followed with a nine-pitch third inning and a 10-pitch fourth, facing the minimum over the last three frames of his outing before Josh Osich took over to start the sixth.

“I think everybody noticed that after that [grand slam] occurred, as much as we had somebody ready with him [in the bullpen], every time he went out the next few innings, he kind of turned it up a bit,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He started attacking the strike zone a lot better, started using his stuff, trusting it, throwing a very sharp breaking ball for strikes.

“Just one [bad] inning. I tip my hat to him because I’m sure everybody in the world thought, ‘Man, he’s done after the second,’ but he ended up giving us five.”

Unfortunately for Cease, he lined up against Rays American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, who had allowed just four runs over his past three starts entering Sunday. The White Sox managed just three hits and struck out 10 times in six innings against the lanky lefty, whiffing 14 times in the game.

Chicago got on the board in the seventh inning after both starters’ departures. Pinch-hitter Ryan Goins led off the frame with a walk and scored on the next play, a triple from Yolmer Sanchez. Adam Engel followed with a single to score Sanchez for the final margin.

The White Sox took two of three from the Rays to close the season series with a 2-4 record against them.

Sanchez also doubled in the fifth inning to mark his second game this season with multiple extra-base hits, both coming in this series. His 21 triples since the start of 2017 lead the American League.

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.