Cease baffles Jays with 'hard to hit' pitch mix

August 25th, 2021

TORONTO -- In a savvy move beyond his years, made sure to throw all of his worst pitches in the bullpen ahead of Tuesday’s start.

“The ball wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do,” Cease said. “It kind of made me lock in, honestly, because I didn’t want to bring that out to the game.”

Once he was throwing for real, Cease made all his pitches count in a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Against a hungry, star-studded Toronto lineup, he matched his season high with seven innings of work, allowing just one run while fanning seven along the way.

Cease’s stuff spoke for itself. He flipped rainbow-like knuckle curves, including one that punched out Bo Bichette, who had to lean on his bat for balance after the miss. He also blazed upper-90s fastballs, topping out at 98.3 mph, which gave his trio of offspeed options extra juice. Of the 17 combined swings on his knuckle curve, slider and changeup, 10 were whiffs (58.8% whiff rate).

“I was attacking with my fastball well, getting it in and out -- not really leaving it down the middle -- and then the offspeed was pretty solid, too,” Cease said. “When I have that combination going, I’m hard to hit.”

He added that the subpar pitches in the bullpen weren’t worrisome for him. The surge of adrenaline he feels on a big league mound can wash away any pregame problems.

That certainly checks out this time, as Cease retired the first 11 Blue Jays he saw. A Corey Dickerson solo shot in the seventh inning was his lone blemish, and only one other Blue Jay advanced past first base against Cease.

Cease’s season-long ERA (3.92) isn’t much better than league average, but he’s excelled at limiting explosive outings: Among his 26 starts, Cease has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 22 of them. As a 25-year-old, that kind of consistency is an encouraging sign for years to come.

“I think every time he goes out there, he does something that's impressive,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “And [it] gives us, for one thing, optimism about games he's going to pitch this year. And for the future, too, boy he's got a chance to be very special.”

Cease enjoyed some early run support -- which helped carry him to victory -- in the form of a four-run first inning.

The White Sox began with two singles and a José Abreu home run, which travelled a Statcast-projected 411 feet for his eighth of the month.

They added to their total with an RBI double from Danny Mendick, the team’s sixth hit of the inning. The White Sox also saw 33 pitches in the frame from familiar foe José Berríos, who they saw three times last month while he was still with the Twins. Even though Chicago didn’t score any more off Berríos, it knocked three more hits and chased him after three innings.

The White Sox have now faced Berríos four times this season, tagging him for an 0-3 record and a 5.57 ERA. That’s quite a diversion from the norm, given that Berríos was 12-2 with a 2.65 ERA against the White Sox entering this year (17 starts).

When Berríos left, the White Sox kept hitting. Their 18 hits matched a season high, but they stranded 12 runners on base and made outs at third and home.

And yet, the Blue Jays had chances with the tying run at the plate in both the eighth and ninth innings. The back end of Chicago’s bullpen has been far shakier these days than it normally is, but Liam Hendriks labored through a five-out, 39-pitch save to finish things off.

Hendriks won’t be available on Wednesday night, naturally, but that could give Craig Kimbrel (5.79 ERA in 10 outings with the White Sox) a chance to right the ship.

“The nice thing is, by the way, as many pitches as [Hendriks] threw, [if] we get a chance to save it tomorrow, we've got Kimbrel,” La Russa said. “So it was just that we've gone this far to win that game, and that's what he does for us."