Cease grinds through adversity in White Sox win

July 3rd, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- When newly crowned AL Pitcher of the Month Dylan Cease took the mound on Saturday afternoon, his start looked eerily similar to that of teammate Lance Lynn the night prior. Like Lynn, Cease labored early on, throwing nearly 30 pitches in the first inning. 

But unlike Lynn, Cease's day never really got easier. He pitched around traffic in each of his five innings of work, unable to completely overwhelm opposing batters the way he has time and again this season. 

Despite not having his best stuff, Cease held the Giants to one run en route to a 5-3 win in San Francisco. The White Sox offense lifted Cease when he needed it most, picking him up from an early deficit to clinch the three-game series.

Two words seemed to stick in Cease's mind as he reflected on his outing: "Good enough." Not a standout performance, but not one to get hung up on either.

"It was a very tough win for him and for us," manager Tony La Russa said, "but he has a way of closing the door, which is a big asset for a guy who wants to be a winner."

The Giants were aggressive from the jump. San Francisco leadoff hitter LaMonte Wade Jr. wasted no time, launching Cease's second pitch of the game to the deepest part of the park for a solo shot. It was just the second earned run Cease had allowed in the past month.

"If you fill up the zone, eventually hits and home runs are going to happen," Cease said. "It's just sort of a byproduct of doing what you're supposed to do, actually."

After Wade's leadoff shot, Joc Pederson stepped in to face Cease. He pulled a double deep to right field at 106.1 mph off the bat, cementing what would become a theme in Cease's outing: The Giants hit him hard and deep.

The White Sox were somewhat lucky, though, as many of those drives turned into outs on Saturday afternoon.

Cease gave up the two hardest-hit balls of the game on Wade and Pederson's first-inning knocks, and opposing batters averaged an exit velocity of 90.1 mph off of him, which is a tick higher than his season average (88 mph).

Cease's slider proved to be key to his success on Saturday, as it induced the softest contact of any of the pitches in his arsenal. His usage of the pitch is only trending up as the season goes on: He threw it for exactly half of his pitches, getting 15 whiffs.

"The slider's been my best pitch lately," Cease said. "They stacked a bunch of lefties against me, so I was just trying to keep them honest and hit 'em with my best shot as much as I could."

The Giants threw everything they had at Cease -- seven batters in San Francisco's starting nine were left-handed. Cease's splits against right- and left-handed hitters demonstrate an ability to get outs no matter which side of the plate they're batting from, albeit in different ways.

Cease has made his career on being a strikeout pitcher: Entering the game, his 13.44 strikeouts per nine would be good enough to break the White Sox single-season franchise record of 12.28 -- which Cease himself set in 2021.

On Saturday, Cease struck out just four batters. His season splits may help explain why: In 2022, 76 of his strikeouts have come against right-handed batters, in comparison with 49 against left-handers.

"He pitched to places where they got the ball in play and got the outs," La Russa said. "They're not wild and swinging at everything they see, so they made an adjustment, he made an adjustment. But he got 15 outs. It was a challenge because they're good over there."

The nine-inning effort wasn't always pretty, but Cease and the White Sox were able to win when they were uncomfortable -- something that will be a boon to the team as it tries to climb the standings and play its way into contention.

"It was more of a grind game," Cease said, "but it wasn't the least comfortable start I've had. I was still getting the ball in the zone well enough. It wasn't quite the next level of getting count leverage and sharpness that I've had before, but that happens sometimes."