White Sox ace Dylan Cease comes of age

American League Cy Young runner-up to Justin Verlander “is still evolving, even with the year he had,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said.

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White Sox’ Dylan Cease looks to fans after coming within one out of pitching a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins in Chicago on Sept. 3.

White Sox’ Dylan Cease looks to fans after coming within one out of pitching a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins in Chicago on Sept. 3.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Dylan Cease didn’t win the American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday. Justin Verlander did, as expected, and by a unanimous vote among baseball writers.

The 26-year-old Cease is way behind the 39-year-old three-time winner in years but not far off in performance. He was second in Cy Young voting after a remarkable season in which Cease’s 2.20 ERA ranked second to Verlander and his 227 strikeouts were second to Gerrit Cole. Cease made 32 starts, four more than Verlander.

To see the White Sox’ ace on MLB Network’s Cy Young show, flanked by his girlfriend and twin brother and surrounded by family and friends before the results were announced, was to see not only a more accomplished pitcher after his fourth season but a thinking-man’s pitcher with a gifted arm and a more secure, mature individual.

“As the years have gone on, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with a lot of things that go along with being a big-league baseball player,” Cease said after enjoying a meal with the guests at his Cy Young announcement gathering. “It’s as simple as little things like getting used to the travel, things you’re not used to experiencing in the minor leagues. I was comfortable this year, and performing and producing always feels good. 

“But it’s a team game, so if the team is not doing well, it’s hard to really, I guess, not be a part of that negative feeling, as well.”

Negative feelings? What about not being chosen for the All-Star Game? Cease had every right to kick and scream, but he quietly acknowledged the inexplicable snub (he was eighth in the majors in ERA and third in strikeouts at the time) and used it as motivation. Meanwhile, the Sox had one of their most disappointing seasons in memory, finishing 81-81 and keeping Cease from a chance at personal postseason payback after he recorded just five outs in his start in Game 3 of the Sox’ 2021 AL Division Series loss to the Astros.

“I try to be as positive as I can and just be grateful to be there,” Cease said. “A lot of times, it’s just that feeling of gratitude and [it’s] surreal still being a major-league baseball player. It really is hard to imagine, especially watching the game growing up, enjoying baseball and to reach the peak like that.”

The Sox have a new manager in Pedrol Grifol and will have several new coaches to be announced, but pitching coach Ethan Katz and bullpen coach Curt Hasler will return, for which Cease is grateful. Cease thanks Katz for taking him “to the next level.”

“I really owe a lot of my success to Ethan and Has,” Cease said. “Ethan from Day 1 came in and had a plan to help me, and we work really well together. He was able to give me information and put me in the right direction.”

Cease’s fastball command improved under Katz’s watch, and his slider was one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball. A big knucklecurve and a changeup round out a formidable four-pitch mix.

“His progression has been evolving for a couple of years now,” Katz said. “Just watching the day-to-day work. The conversations we have, the belief and trust in his stuff. He has grown a lot.”

Katz said Cease’s ability to control the running game saved him multiple runs. He deciphered reports on his outings, used them to his benefit and had clear conversations with Katz from start to start, Katz said.

“So he grew a lot, and he is still growing,” Katz said. “There is still some stuff — I said this a lot — that he’s still evolving, even with the year he had.”

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