Dylan Cease expects to have better performances and the White Sox expect that from him. But as special moments go, it’ll be hard to top the feeling he had walking to the bullpen to warm up for his major-league debut.
“It really is hard to put into words, the atmosphere,” the 23-year-old right-hander said after grinding through a shaky, wild first inning to finish with five innings of three-run ball in the Sox’ 7-5 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “You guys probably heard the [noisy] dugout and all that. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had at a baseball field.”
A crowd awaited Cease around the bullpen to watch him warm up, evoking memories of Michael Kopech’s debut last season.
“It was incredible,” Cease said. “Even when I walked out pregame, they were lined up from third base all the way behind the bullpen cheering. That much energy definitely helps me lock in. And it’s pretty cool, too.”
It took Cease 101 pitches (61 strikes) to get through a much-anticipated outing that began with three walks and a hit batter in a two-run first. His day came to a close with a wind-aided homer by Jeimer Candelario with two outs in the fifth and a strikeout of Harold Castro. And with that, Cease walked off to rousing ovation from 26,023 fans.
They saw him touch 100 with one pitch on the scoreboard gun, show a sharp curve and some good changeups mixed in. Cease’s line: Five innings, four hits, three earned runs, four walks, a hit batter and six strikeouts. The struggling Tigers (27-53) swung and missed 13 times.
“He was definitely able to get into a groove after that first inning,” catcher James McCann, a former Tiger, said. “I told him after the first, ‘Hey man your stuff is plenty good. If you fill up the zone, you are going to be fine. The only way they beat you is if you beat yourself.’ ”
The pitch count and walk totals were too high for five innings but as debuts go, the Sox and Cease, the No. 18-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, will be good with it considering the rough patch of lost fastball-command in the first.
Why the buzz? Acquired from the Cubs with Eloy Jimenez in the Jose Quintana trade, Cease was the latest next-best thing to arrive from Class AAA Charlotte in the unfolding rebuild. Scouts tout him as anywhere from a No. 3 to No. 1 starter.
“It was a good first start,” Cease said. “Obviously the command wasn’t the best but I’ll take a win any time.”
Appearing mostly calm all day, Cease attributed the early command issues to fixable mechanics, not nerves.
“Especially after making adjustments that first inning and getting through five, it gives me a lot of confidence going into the break,” he said.
Yolmer Sanchez and Ryan Cordell, who squeezed in Jimenez for a run, gave him a lot of support two hits including a double and two RBI apiece for the Sox (40-42). Jose Abreu and McCann (two RBI) also had a double and single.
The Sox chased Tigers lefty Daniel Norris (2-8) in the sixth, and got perfect relief work from Evan Marshall (two innings) and Aaron Bummer (one with two strikeouts) after Cease left. Kelvin Herrera faltered in the ninth, forcing manager Rick Renteria to summon closer Alex Colome for his 19th save.
Cease, as his unwavering demeanor, didn’t flinch when Jimenez, his old pal from the Cubs system, dumped the Gatorade bucket over him.
“It couldn’t be any better,” Cease said. “After that first inning he came up to me and gave me some reassuring words, too.”
Being a Sox and not a Cub is just fine, too.
“I have no complaints,” Cease said. “If you told me at the beginning of my career that I’d be on the other side, I probably wouldn’t have believed you but today was definitely incredible.”