In 'best start' of career, Cease K's Trout ... 3 times

May 3rd, 2022

CHICAGO --  termed Monday’s high-quality performance during a 3-0 victory over the Angels at Guaranteed Rate Field as the best start of his career, by far.

The 11 strikeouts and one hit allowed over seven innings and 93 pitches support such a theory. But the White Sox right-hander’s three strikeouts of Mike Trout added a little extra zest to such excellence. 

“Yeah. It definitely means a lot,” said a smiling Cease. “He’s maybe the greatest player of all-time. Any time you can get him out, it’s definitely a confidence booster.”

“Cease took it to him,” said shortstop Tim Anderson, who singled and scored during a two-run first. “That’s the beautiful part of the game, being able to go out to compete against the best, and being able to beat him at the best. Cease definitely had the upper hand today. He’s going to have to face him a lot more, so hopefully he keeps that going.”

That “best start” description was based on everything from execution to stuff to results, according to Cease. The 26-year-old has turned into one of the more dominant pitchers in the game, with a wide arsenal to go after the opposition.

On Monday, in helping the White Sox earn a four-game series split, Cease recorded seven swinging strikes with his four-seam fastball, one with his slider and three with his curve. He even mixed in three changeups for good measure, per Statcast.

Trout swung through a 96.3 mph four-seamer in the first, and Cease stranded Taylor Ward on second in a 2-0 game by throwing a 97.6 mph four-seamer by Trout in the fourth and getting Jared Walsh to ground out. Ward’s double was barely over the reach of left fielder AJ Pollock. Cease completed the trifecta by getting Trout looking with a 77 mph changeup during a three-pitch strikeout in the seventh, as he became the first White Sox starter to go at least seven innings this season.

“Woof. Everything. Command of everything,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon of Cease. “He usually walks more people. Command of his fastball, command of his curveball -- or whatever that is -- and he mixed in a couple changeups too. But primarily he just commanded the strike zone with stellar stuff. It was that good. That's it.”

“Some games I’ll have outings where I’ve only got really two pitches working and I’m battling,” Cease said. “Today I pretty much feel like I knew where four pitches were going.”

Monday’s outing marked Cease’s 10th career double-digit strikeout effort, tying him with Jim Scott and Gary Peters for ninth-most in White Sox history. His 39 strikeouts this season are tied with Chris Sale (2014) and Jake Peavy (2013) for the third-most by a White Sox pitcher through his first five starts of a season.

Those 11 strikeouts matched a career-high for Cease, done for the fifth time, and the first since Aug. 29, 2021 against the Cubs. He also became the second pitcher in White Sox history to pitch seven-plus scoreless innings, allow one hit or less with zero walks and record 11-plus strikeouts in the same game. He joined Peters, who had 13 strikeouts in a complete game on July 15, 1963.

This development process began when Cease was passed over for the Game 3 start in the 2020 Wild Card series, a start he didn’t feel was deserved at the time, and then was enhanced by Cease’s bond with pitching coach Ethan Katz. Cease struck out 226 over 165 2/3 innings in ‘21 and became the team’s stopper in ‘22.

“He’s pitching with a lot of command,” said White Sox manager Tony La Russa of Cease, who is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA over his last eight regular season starts, with 63 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. “He also competes. Never satisfied with the last inning. It’s always the next one.”

“A lot of it’s just repetition and experience,” Cease said. “I’ve been up here a little bit now. I was able to relax and focus on what I wanted to do, and like I said, when I’ve had that much repetition [and] experience the last couple of years, it’s just kind of clicking a little bit.”

Clicking enough to strike out one of the game’s greatest hitters in a trio of at-bats.

“I have so much respect for him. Any time you get him out it’s something you can brag about,” Cease said. “It’s best to just focus on what you gotta do. If you sit there and think, ‘Oh my god, it’s Mike Trout,’ this and that, it’s gonna be hard to get him out. I was just staying focused on what I had to do. And it worked out well.”