Rookie right-hander Dylan Cease was one bad pitch from letting the White Sox’ game Sunday against the Angels get out of control.
Laboring through another rough beginning, Cease had loaded the bases with one out in the second inning. Bench coach Joe McEwing, managing in place of Rick Renteria, went out to talk with Cease and asked him what he had. Apparently persuaded, McEwing let Cease stay in the game to face Shohei Ohtani.
On a 3-2 pitch, Cease struck out Ohtani with a 97.8 mph fastball for the second out. He then got Albert Pujols to fly to center, keeping the score tied.
‘‘It’s another step in his process of being able to grind through those things; those things are important,’’ McEwing said after the Sox beat the Angels 5-1. ‘‘Even if Ohtani got a base hit there, give him that opportunity to possibly get through that. And I just talked to him about that. He was able to get Ohtani and then got the next guy and was able to continue to go. We had somebody behind him every time he went out. He was basically hitter-to-hitter at that point.’’
Cease’s starts generally have followed a distinct pattern: The first two innings are rough, then he settles in.
He didn’t last long enough Sunday for that to continue, allowing one run in 3„ trying innings. Cease walked five and needed 88 pitches to get 10 outs, but McEwing and the Sox were heartened by how he didn’t allow things to blow up.
‘‘Every time he’s able to take the mound, it’s a positive because he’s continuing to get reps at the big-league level, which you can’t get anywhere else,’’ McEwing said. ‘‘You’re competing against the best players in the world every single day. He was able to get through it. It’s another chapter to where he needs to be.’’
For Cease to become the pitcher the Sox want him to become, he’ll have to get better in the first two innings. After giving up an RBI single to Ohtani in the first, Cease’s ERA in the first two innings is 10.88, compared with 2.89 in the third through fifth innings.
‘‘It was more of a battle today,’’ Cease said. ‘‘I think I went through stretches where I had a feel for [my pitches], but definitely not good enough with my fastball command.’’
Cease’s early issues didn’t prevent the Sox from winning their 63rd game of the season, one more than their total in 2018. Jose Abreu hit his 31st home run and drove in his 600th career run, and Danny Mendick hit his first career homer to help the Sox avoid a three-game sweep.
Relievers Josh Osich, Aaron Bummer and Alex Colome combined to throw 5‰ scoreless innings after Cease departed.
As for Cease, his first big-league season has had its ups and downs. His stuff is as advertised, and he has flashed that arsenal to stop major-league hitters.
Last Tuesday against the Indians, Cease gave up a homer to Francisco Lindor in the first but bounced back to strike out a career-high 11 in 6‰ innings. He wasn’t as good against the Angels, but at least there were some signs of growth.
‘‘I feel almost like a completely different pitcher than when I first got called up, so it’s definitely going on the right trajectory,’’ Cease said. ‘‘There’s still stuff to work on, but I’m happy with the progress so far.’’