DETROIT — Right-hander Dylan Cease lasted only five innings for the fifth time in his six starts, but this time he kept the damage to a reasonable level — a season-low two runs — in the White Sox’ 5-3 victory Tuesday afternoon against the struggling Tigers at Comerica Park.
If it’s baby steps Cease must take to get where the Sox believe he’s going, then baby steps it is. Manager Rick Renteria believes Cease is going to be elite.
In this start, the 23-year-old, who is ranked second among Sox pitching prospects behind Michael Kopech, avoided the “extraordinary events,” as Renteria put it, he often encountered in his first five starts. In his last three, Cease allowed 11 of his 12 runs in single innings in each game.
“Every start, I’ve been building and building, making little adjustments,” Cease said after striking out six and allowing seven hits and one walk. “I’m still not exactly where I want to be, but every time I feel like I’m taking something out of it. I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m confident right now, and I want to just keep building on it.”
Cease wants to be and needs to be a six- or seven-inning pitcher. He’ll need to be more efficient to be that, as this one required 101 pitches to get through five innings.
“But stuff-wise, I’m feeling good,’’ he said. ‘‘I just need to not fall behind.’’
Cease (2-4) won for the first time since he beat the Tigers in his debut July 3 at Guaranteed Rate Field. In that one, he allowed three runs in five innings.
In this one, the Tigers nicked him for a run in the third and a run in the fourth. Cease could not avoid rather heavy traffic, though, never facing the minimum in any inning.
“And even if he does have traffic, how does he handle those situations?” Renteria said. “Those are big things for us to learn from for him and for us. I repeat — this guy is going to be an excellent major-league pitcher. Elite. Has a good chance to be elite.”
Cease got 15 swings and misses, but he left pitches in the middle of the plate, and he buried the big curve too far in front of the plate at times to be competitive. He also threw some good ones in the right spots.
“He’s got to be more attacking early, strong with conviction,” Renteria said. “You can see when he turns it up, when he starts to get in a little bit of trouble, he’ll change his demeanor a little bit.”
Renteria raised the subject with his young pitcher.
“It seems early in the game, I kind of feel my way through it a little bit,” Cease said. “Then I get locked in, and I start being a little more aggressive.
‘‘It’s just a mindset. I’m just going to do a better job of mentally locking in before the game and not letting the first inning or two wake me up.”
Jose Abreu had three hits, including his 24th homer and a double against lefty Daniel Norris (3-9), and drove in three runs. Catcher Welington Castillo had two hits, including a homer, in his return from family medical emergency leave, Ryan Goins went 2-for-3 with a triple and Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to six games with two hits.
The Sox’ bullpen combined for four innings of one-run ball with contributions from Evan Marshall, Aaron Bummer (two innings) and Alex Colome (22nd save in 23 chances). With another game in a split doubleheader Tuesday night, it would have been a good day for less taxation on the pen.
But again, baby steps.
“Yeah,” Cease said. “Going deeper in games [is the goal].”