A season ago Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease made the jump from tantalizing young arm to reliable big-league starter, throwing 165 2/3 innings with a 3.91 ERA and strong underlying numbers: 31.9 percent strikeout rate, 9.6 percent walk rate, and 1.09 home runs per nine innings pitched. Not an ace, but a rock solid major-league starter.
This season the 26-year-old Cease may be making the jump into the ace tier of starting pitchers. Monday afternoon he manhandled the Los Angeles Angels, striking out 11 and allowing just one baserunner (a Taylor Ward double) in seven shutout innings (CWS 3, LA 0). Cease threw 93 pitches in those seven innings, so he was excellent and efficient.
Watch the video and note Mike Trout accounted for three of Cease's 11 strikeouts Monday (including two on only three pitches). Cease is the first pitcher to strike Trout out three times in a game since Seattle Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales on Aug. 31, 2020.
Cease has never lacked stuff. He's a former top 100 prospect who came over from the Chicago Cubs with Eloy Jiménez in the José Quintana trade, and he's always shown the coveted ability to miss bats in the strike zone with a high-octane fastball. This year he's using his slider more than ever, and on Monday the changeup was his go-to secondary pitch:
|Monday||First 4 starts of 2022||2021|
The 29 changeups tie Cease's career high in a start, set back in 2020. He did not throw more than 18 changeups in a start last season. Furthermore, Angels hitters swung at 14 of Cease's changeups Monday and eight times they missed. That 57 percent whiff rate is extraordinary even within the context of a single start.
In the past, Cease was a fastball-heavy pitcher who leaned on his slider as his primary secondary pitch. Starts like Monday, in which he threw his fastball, slider, and changeup almost equally, is not something that would have happened earlier in Cease's career. He is gaining experience and getting more comfortable on the mound, and the result can be a start like Monday's.
The season is young -- very young -- but Cease was a trendy breakout pick coming into 2022. Following Monday's start, he has a 2.48 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 29 innings. Numbers like that will land Cease in the All-Star Game, and down the line could equal Cy Young votes.