Cease unconcerned after getting 'punched in the face'

March 9th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- “It’s only Spring Training” is the mantra White Sox fans should repeat following ’s rare debacle of a start during a 14-5 loss to the Royals on Wednesday night at Surprise Stadium.

The 2022 American League Cy Young runner-up and staff ace allowed 11 runs on seven hits with four walks over two-thirds of an inning, failing to finish each of his two frames before completing his night’s work in the bullpen. After striking out 453 combined over the last two regular seasons, Cease didn’t record a strikeout against Kansas City and had a minimal number of swings-and-misses against the 13 batters faced.

But again, it’s Cactus League competition. This outing should long be forgotten when Cease hits the mound at Minute Maid Park to face the defending World Series champions Astros in the first series of the season.

“It was a lot of walks, a lot of hits, a lot of runs,” Cease said. “Definitely not a good night. But I left healthy. Thankfully it's spring, so I'm just going to learn from it and kind of flush it.

“Obviously in spring it's a mix of locating stuff and building up. Sometimes it's not the worst thing to get punched in the face a little. It gets you going. But obviously not ideal.”

Jackie Bradley Jr. opened the first with a sharp single to right followed by three straight walks to force in a run. Michael Massey cleared the bases with a grand slam to right, officially letting Cease know it wasn’t his sharpest night.

Edward Olivares flew out deep to center for the first batter retired by Cease, who was then replaced by John Parke after 23 pitches. Cease re-entered in the second, but only recorded one out in a six-run frame.

“I didn't get my slider in the zone at all and pretty much they were able to spit on it, and then they got to the heater,” Cease said. “It's never fun to give up runs. It's frustrating, especially when the biggest thing is calibrating, getting that strike [zone] dialed in. 

“It's kind of why we're here for spring. A lot of times it's just reps, still getting reps, still getting ready. Unfortunately, I wasn't good today.”

Feeling good physically was the lone positive Cease took from the start. He left with no worry over one rough night.

“If I did this four, five times in a row, I'd get a little worried. Honestly, I'm just going to flush this one,” Cease said. “I'm in a good spot. I'm mid-90s right now, so not quite probably what I'll get to. The biggest thing is just getting in the zone right now. I've been doing a good job in my pens and practice doing it, but now I've just got to translate it to the game."

Hello, old friends

Pedro Grifol worked 10 years for the Royals, including the last three as the bench coach, and interviewed in the offseason for Kansas City’s vacant managerial position. But Wednesday’s matchup didn’t have any extra meaning for the White Sox manager.

“You’re probably going to think I’m lying like everybody else, but I don’t really feel anything or nothing extra,” Grifol said. “It’s another game that we need to prepare ourselves for Game 1. And that’s the truth.”

White Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi played parts of two seasons with Royals, before being traded to the Yankees on July 27 last season. But there was no real sentimentality Wednesday for Benintendi, who hit first at Yankee Stadium against the Royals the day after he was traded.

“I don’t think there will be anything more weird than that,” Benintendi said.

“It’s weird to see him over there, but happy for him and for Pedro,” Royals starter Brad Keller said. “We’ve been texting back and forth from the second he signed over there, so that’s going to be fun facing them a lot this year.”