ARLINGTON, Texas – White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz met right-hander Dylan Cease at the top of the dugout steps with a fist bump.
In what would become an 8-0 win for the White Sox at Globe Life Field on Friday, Cease had just thrown his fifth straight scoreless inning against the Rangers. He recorded 10 strikeouts, one shy of his season high.
The win whittled down the White Sox’ magic number to five.
“He starts out a little sluggish, he gets on it, but he never quits competing,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said of Cease’s performance. “He’s really come a long ways.”
Pitching deeper into games has been a focus for Cease as he’s come into his own this season. After the first two innings Friday, it looked like that would be a tall order. Through two frames, Cease had already thrown 50 pitches. Through three, his pitch count passed 70.
Though his outing ended an inning short of a quality start, finishing with five scoreless frames was quite the turnaround. With the talent the White Sox have in the bullpen, starters won’t have to throw much more than that in the postseason.
“Honestly, I just went back to a little bit more focus, don’t take your eye off the target, and it clicked,” Cease said. “But that’s baseball at the same time. Sometimes it takes a second to get in a groove and all that. But really, wasting pitches like that is unacceptable. So, it’s something I’m looking to limit, and I think I’m going to be able to take what happened today and finish strong in the season.”
Cease’s night began with a line drive screaming back at him. Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the second batter Cease faced, hit a comebacker that struck Cease above his right ankle. The ball careened into foul territory and rolled into the dugout.
After a mound visit from Katz and an athletic trainer to make sure Cease was alright, the right-hander remained in the game.
“Might be a little sore tomorrow, but it’s nothing major,” Cease said after the game.
Though Cease’s pitch count climbed as he allowed three hits and two walks over the first three innings, no Rangers baserunner made it past second base.
The White Sox offense gave Cease plenty of run support. In the fourth inning, when the White Sox batted through the order and scored five runs, Luis Robert delivered the big hit. He lined a double to the center field warning track, where the ball bounced once and then sprang back off the wall. Three runs scored.
Rookie Romy González recorded his first career multi-hit game, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored.
Meanwhile, after the White Sox’ rally meant a long break between third and the bottom of the fourth inning, Cease took the mound looking the sharpest he’d been all game.
“I’ve had those games where I got a big lead, and I still wasted pitches,” Cease said. “So, when I got that lead, it was, ‘No more wasting anything. We’re throwing the ball in the zone. And I was able to do that.’
Cease allowed just one more hit and got through the last two innings combined with fewer pitches than he needed to get out of the first.
“He's always had the stuff,” Katz said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago this week. “But the way he’d be able to attack the strike zone with it now is the biggest development.”