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Dylan Cease told me in spring training that the fate of his new mustache hinged on how well he performed with it in the early going of the 2022 campaign.
After he twirled what he called “the best start of my career, by far” Monday afternoon, I checked in. Is it safe to say he’s keeping the mustache?
“Oh yeah,” he said.
Indeed, it was an electric outing Monday, Cease dominating the Angels through seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit, walking nobody and striking out a whopping 11 opposing batters. That included three punch outs of Mike Trout. You know, the guy who just might be the game’s all-time greatest player?
“I have so much respect for him. Any time you get him out, it’s something you can brag about,” Cease said. “I stayed pretty even-keeled today. I think it’s best to just focus on what you’ve got to do. If you sit there and think, ‘Oh my god, it’s Mike Trout,’ this and that, it’s going to be hard to get him out.”
“He doesn’t swing and miss too often,” Liam Hendriks said of Trout, who he struck out to end the game, finishing off just the seventh four-strikeout game of Trout’s career. “I’ve heard some people say his approach is he goes out there and sits on the pitcher’s best pitch. Well Cease has five different best pitches. It’s unbelievable.”
Yes, Cease won battle after battle with the three-time MVP, showing that he, too, might have ascended to the sport’s upper echelon. Cease was a popular dark horse to win the AL Cy Young Award before the season began. Though he might not have started the campaign as the best pitcher on his own team, that preseason hype is not looking at all ridiculous at the moment.
After taking a huge step from a poor 2020 to a breakout 2021, Cease looks like he’s taking another in the early stages of 2022. Monday was the kind of performance you see from a Cy Young type, and with Cease, the nasty stuff that’s been discussed by teammates for years has finally aligned with everything else a pitcher needs to do to be successful.
That’s a potential Cy Young formula.
“His continued progress is just – I don’t want to say ‘amazing,’ because that means it’s beyond what he can do. How quickly he’s developing is just very fun to see,” Tony La Russa said. “He’s embracing the pressure, which is a great sign for what he can do for this organization this year and in the future.”
It’s a glorious outcome for the White Sox, who have navigated through a month without Lance Lynn, who finished third in the Cy Young vote last year, and still have a month to go before he’s back on a big league mound. Lucas Giolito, too, missed time with a far less severe injury. By the close of Opening Day, given the injuries to their top two pitchers and the question marks surrounding other arms, the White Sox rotation looked on the brink of disaster.
But Cease has been a lifesaver, turning in the kind of efforts Lynn and Giolito have made a habit of over the last few seasons. It’s beginning to look like the White Sox have three Cy Young caliber arms in their rotation, and it’s not difficult to see the starting staff soon shouldering the sort of load it did in 2021, when it finished the regular season with the AL’s best numbers.
It wasn’t long ago that Cease was walking the world, giving up home runs and getting himself into one jam after another, watching innings spiral out of control. Monday, against an Angels lineup that despite being down Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon entered with the highest OPS in baseball, he allowed just two base runners across seven lightning-quick innings.
NBC Sports Chicago’s postgame show had to show a defensive highlight from the Angels for their defensive play of the game, host Chuck Garfien explaining there were too many Cease strikeouts to allow for much White Sox glove work.
Of course, this has always been the guy the White Sox have talked about, someone with all the potential in the world. Yasmani Grandal, who caught Cease on Monday, talked a couple springs ago about his promise as a future Cy Young candidate. Ethan Katz helped that potential blossom, working the same kind of magic he did with Giolito and Carlos Rodón.
“I’ve learned the brightest light is always the player,” La Russa said, asked about the combination of talent and coaching that can get a player to this point. “They are the guys out there competing. … But I also am a huge fan of quality coaching.
“I can remember when we hired Ethan last year. They started communicating before spring training started. They formed that relationship that they carried right through the whole (2021) season. Even though they couldn’t talk this year (during the lockout), once they got in spring training, (it started up again). I think the coaching is always a must but never overshadows the competitor.”
As La Russa alluded to, and as is obvious from the way the White Sox have long talked, this might not even be peak Cease. That’s not to say the start he evaluated as his all-time best as a major leaguer won’t remain one of his finest moments. But it is to say the White Sox believe there are more lands for Cease to conquer.
“I’m expecting a lot from Dylan,” Katz said in March. “We need him, and I know he wants to go and take another step. Like I said last year, his development, there’s a lot to be had. I’m excited with what he did last year, and I’m also excited with what still needs to be done.
“He’s a guy that still has a lot of steps to take.”
Well then. The league probably doesn’t want to hear that, not after seeing what Cease did in carving up its best player Monday afternoon.
“I think a lot of it’s just repetition and experience,” Cease said. “I’ve been up here a little bit now. Really, I was able to relax and focus on what I wanted to do. And when I’ve had that much repetition and experience the last couple of years, it’s just kind of clicking a little bit.
“That was the best start of my career, I think by far, from execution to stuff to results. That’s definitely a good one to build on.”
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