Cease's first start -- and jersey number -- a hopeful sign for Padres

March 31st, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- There were good omens, if not immediate rewards, when made his regular-season Padres debut on Saturday afternoon.

Start with his uniform number, 84. That’s a number of significance in Padres lore, as the 1984 club made the first postseason visit in franchise history, taking the NL pennant before running into a Tigers powerhouse in the ’84 World Series.

Cease took the loss as the Padres dropped a 9-6 decision to the Giants at Petco Park, their second straight defeat against their former manager, Bob Melvin. He struck out six across 4 2/3 innings but required 85 pitches to get that far and yielded three runs (two earned).

“I was more inconsistent than I’d like to be, but it was OK,” Cease said.

There are a few parallels between two Padres teams 40 years apart.

The ’84 Padres were coming off an 81-win season; this year’s Padres are coming off an 82-win campaign. Each club lined up with a top prospect getting his chance in center field (Kevin McReynolds, Jackson Merrill). Each had a young superstar in right field (Tony Gwynn, Fernando Tatis Jr.). Each had a leadoff batter who moved from another position to second base for that season (Alan Wiggins, Xander Bogaerts). And each made an important trade in the final days of Spring Training.

The 1984 Padres added third baseman Graig Nettles as their final piece. The 2024 Padres, of course, added Cease in a trade with the White Sox just as they were breaking camp.

Will Cease be the final piece of a playoff team? Certainly, it’s going to take more than good omens and happy coincidences. But the right-hander showed in his debut why he’s such a crucial piece of the 2024 Padres.

Cease’s sword-inducing slider induced eight whiffs on 19 swings, and his four-seam fastball averaged 96.2 mph. That’s frontline stuff.

“The stuff’s great,” manager Mike Shildt said. “The breaking ball was very good. Fastball had a ton of life to it.”

Oddly, Cease also threw the three slowest pitches of his career: 64.1 mph, 64.6 mph and 66.6 mph. He never threw a pitch slower than 67.4 mph in five seasons with the White Sox. Cease has had a slow changeup for a while, and he’s tinkering with a slow curve, too.

“I love the eephus change,” said catcher Kyle Higashioka, who also made his Padres debut on Saturday. “I thought he looked really good. He was getting a lot of swings and misses. I really liked what I saw.

“The fastball is really tough to get on because it’s so explosive. And then he’s got two of the more elite breaking balls in the game, as well. So you have to contend with that. He’s a fun guy to catch.”

What Cease didn’t do out of the chute was pitch efficiently. He walked two batters, and a 27-pitch second inning drove up his pitch count. The Giants scored twice -- they never trailed in the game -- and it took a dazzling diving catch by Bogaerts to end the frame.

It was a 3-0 game when Cease departed. Each bullpen allowed six runs to make it a high-scoring affair, with Padres rookie smacking his first career home run to account for the game’s final three runs.

Next time out, Cease will be on a normal routine for the first time in weeks. He was traded on March 13 and threw a bullpen session at the Padres’ complex in Peoria, Ariz., before flying to Korea to join the team before the Seoul Series. He pitched an exhibition there and then one at Petco Park against the Mariners on Monday before his official Padres debut.

So Saturday was a start, but just one start.

“I kind of have the long view in mind,” Cease said. “There’s a lot more to go.”

The Padres might even go into October if they continue to parallel that ’84 squad.