La Russa: Cease ‘right choice’ to start must-win Game 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Veteran right-hander Lance Lynn told Dylan Cease to take in everything he could at Minute Maid Park this week, for a more practical reason than the usual remember-this-moment advice that the playoffs bring.
“So when you get out there,” Lynn explained to NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday, “you can just worry about pitching.”
On Sunday, Cease is set to take the mound against the Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, the White Sox’ most high-stakes game yet. Down 2-0 in the best-of-five series, the South Siders return to Guaranteed Rate Field in a win-or-go-home situation. It’ll also be the first time the White Sox have hosted a playoff game since 2008.
“I'm still very excited,” Cease said. “The stakes are high, but I'm just grateful that we have the opportunity, honestly.”
A year ago, Cease made his first postseason appearance, throwing a 1-2-3 inning out of the bullpen in a Game 2 AL Wild Card Series loss at Oakland.
“There's been huge strides this year for me personally in my development,” he said, looking back on that experience.
Asked what he was most proud of in terms of his growth this season, Cease paused before answering. He’d posted a career-best 3.91 ERA this year, leading the American League with 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He had plenty of areas of development to choose from.
“How much better I've gotten at throwing just quality strikes and not just with my fastball, with really every pitch,” he said. “… Being able to have stretches where I'm really commanding multiple pitches has been really satisfying.”
Cease’s two regular season starts against the Astros are an example of how he’s made adjustments throughout the year.
In June at Houston, Cease gave up six earned runs, leaving the game with one out in the fourth inning. But he had more success in a rematch in Chicago, limiting the Astros to three runs in 5 2/3 innings. That was the only game that the White Sox lost at home in the three-game series, after getting swept in Houston.
“I think honestly, as boring of an answer as it is, it's execution,” Cease said. “I've got the stuff. It's just a matter of getting count leverage and utilizing it and being able to do the little things like that. The second game was much better, and I executed pitches better. It was that simple.”
On Saturday, after weighting the strides Cease has made this season and the health of Carlos Rodón, the other candidate to start Game 3, White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Cease was “the right choice” to take the ball Sunday.
“I think about his first bullpen (this year), and you could tell he had outstanding talent,” La Russa said. “And I watched the progress where he got more consistent repeating his delivery and commanding pitches.
“And he takes it into the season, all the different situations he had to face. Sometimes he was good early and got a little struggle, never quit competing, and quickly would come in the dugout, he and (pitching coach Ethan Katz) would talk, and he’d fix it.”
Toward the end of the White Sox’ batting practice Saturday afternoon, Cease stood in left field talking with Lynn and Rodón, both All-Star resources the 25-year-old will have by his side heading into Sunday’s start. Lynn later complimented Cease’s eagerness to learn.
“He’s had a great year,” Lynn said. “For a young kid to get the opportunity to pitch in the playoffs, he’s excited, and we’re looking forward to see what he’s got because he’s got great stuff."