White Sox trusting Cease to extend season

October 10th, 2021

CHICAGO -- With the White Sox on the brink of elimination in the American League Division Series, they’ll turn to right-hander for his first career postseason start in Game 3 against the Astros on Sunday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Cease, 25, is coming off a breakout season that saw him post a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts with 226 strikeouts in 165 2/3 innings. Left-hander Carlos Rodón was also considered, but he could start Game 4 on Monday if the White Sox extend the series. Rodón dealt with shoulder soreness and fatigue down the stretch, which limits his ability to pitch deep into a game.

“The reasoning was that it’s a short series, and we have had all-hands-on-deck the first two games,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “If it goes to extra innings, then you’ve got length. [Cease] was the longest guy there. I’m looking forward to starting him. He’s the right choice for tomorrow. I’m fired up to watch him. We all are.”

It’ll be the second career postseason appearance for Cease, who pitched a scoreless inning in relief in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series against the A’s last year. He said he was informed on Friday that he would start on Sunday.

Cease has a few things working in his favor. He went 6-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 16 home starts, compared to 7-5 with a 4.69 ERA in 16 road outings. He also finished strong, with a 0.63 ERA over his final three outings of the year. He was hit by a comebacker on his right arm in his second-to-last start on Sept. 24, but he made his final start on Oct. 3 without any issues and is healthy now. He also talked to veteran Lance Lynn for some advice on what to expect. It’ll be the first White Sox postseason home game since 2008.

“Physically, I’m feeling really fresh,” Cease said. “I mostly just feel excitement that I get to go out and do it. And then I talked to Lance a little bit. He’s obviously been around and has pitched in the World Series, so I kind of just asked him about what are some of the things that you might feel or might feel that are unexpected. So I’m excited about it.”

Cease pitched well against the Astros at home on July 16, allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, but he allowed seven runs (six earned) over 3 1/3 innings at Minute Maid Park on June 17. He's 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA, 16 strikeouts and four homers allowed in three career starts against Houston.

“Obviously, they've got a great lineup,” Cease said. “To me, it just comes down to [that] if I execute pitches, more times than not, good things happen. I'm not going to go in there trying to get a swing and miss every pitch. I'm going to try to execute pitches and be aggressive and really just control everything that I can control, and not worry about anything else.”

Cease certainly has the stuff. His fastball averaged 96.7 mph this season, and he pairs it with a slider, a curveball and a changeup. His strikeout percentage of 31.9 percent was the fifth best in the Majors, behind only Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray.

"There's been huge strides this year for me personally in my development," Cease said. "I think just how much better I've gotten at throwing just quality strikes, and not just with my fastball, with really every pitch. I mean, there's been a lot of strides, so it is hard to pick just one, but being able to have stretches where I'm really commanding multiple pitches has been really satisfying."

Center fielder Luis Robert, who is 5-for-7 in the series, said he has trust in Cease, just like he does with all of the White Sox starters.

“We feel confident with all of our starters on the mound,” Robert said through an interpreter. “We feel very confident with him. It's no different having him or having any of the other guys out there.”