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Strong first spring outing for White Sox’ Dylan Cease

Eloy Jimenez drove in three runs as ex-Cubs prospects enjoyed a good day against their former team.

Until Monday, all of Dylan Cease’s work during spring training had been during live batting practice and bullpen sessions. (For Sun-Times/John Antonoff)

Dylan Cease pitched three scoreless innings in his 2021 Cactus League debut.

Eloy Jimenez singled in his first two at-bats, driving in three runs.

It was a good day for that trade with the Cubs.

The White Sox acquired Cease and Jimenez as top prospects from the Cubs in 2016, dealing left-hander Jose Quintana in one of the three big deals that started their rebuild. In a Cactus League game Monday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, Cease and Jimenez stood out against the North Siders.

While Jimenez’s bat has been warming up in recent days, this was an encouraging first start for the right-hander trying to nail down the No. 4 spot in the Sox’ rotation. Cease struggled with command last season but has enjoyed good results in bullpen and live batting-practice sessions leading to Monday.

Cease gave up one hit, a bloop single by Eric Sogard, and did not allow a walk. He struck out Willson Contreras and Matt Duffy. His fastball sat around 97-98 mph, and he threw his sharp-breaking curveball for strikes.

“I think we’re right where we need to be,” Cease said. “It’s always encouraging to see results.”

Manager Tony La Russa isn’t handing a spot to Cease, who is taking nothing for granted.

“I want to be a valuable member of the team, and I know that starts with me throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys,” he said.

“I definitely want to earn that spot, and that’s my intention.”

If Cease (5.00 career ERA) can hold that spot by performing to the high ceiling he’s known for, and if Jimenez builds on the Silver Slugger Award he earned in 2020, the Sox will have no trouble claiming a convincing victory in that trade, although Jimenez remains a work in progress defensively. He overthrew the cutoff man on a throw home, allowing Alfonso Rivas to move into scoring position.

Jimenez struck out and flied out to the warning track in right in his two other at-bats.

For his part, Cease won’t fail for lack of effort.

“He’s really determined to pitch to his potential, and he’s trying to hurry that process by relying on good coaching,” La Russa said.

Robert scratched

Center fielder Luis Robert was scratched from the lineup with a lower abdominal strain. The Sox said he was held out as a precautionary measure.

Robert, who won the American League Gold Glove for center fielders and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, has had a good spring, going 8-for-24 with a home run, three doubles, two RBI, four runs scored and three stolen bases in eight games.

It’s not known how long Robert will be held out of action.

Sox 4, Cubs 4

Hendriks blows a save

Liam Hendriks, the White Sox’ new $54 million closer, was given a real-life save situation and blew it, hanging a curveball to Patrick Wisdom and allowing a tying solo home run with one out in the ninth. Hendriks also struck out two.

The Sox (3-8-4) put runners on the corners with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Blake Rutherford grounded into a double play, leaving them with their fourth tie of the spring.

Righty Dylan Cease pitched three innings of near-perfect ball, and Eloy Jimenez drove in three runs with two singles. Jose Abreu (2-for-2) doubled, walked twice and drove in the other Sox run.

Kopech’s second outing

After a perfect inning in his first outing, Michael Kopech felt no effects from a tweaked calf muscle suffered last week, touched 100 mph, commanded his slider and had two strikeouts in working a scoreless eighth inning. He also allowed a single and hit Nick Martini on the leg with a fastball.

Kopech, transitioning to pitching out of the bullpen, is “getting used to a routine of getting going quick so I’m hot when I step on that mound for the first time.”

A first for Crochet

Left-hander Garrett Crochet hadn’t allowed a run in a major-league uniform (over five appearances in 2020 and three Cactus League outings this spring) until the Cubs nicked him for one on a double by David Bote and a tying RBI single by Alfonso Rivas in the seventh. Crochet, who touched 100 mph 45 times last season, was sitting at around 96 mph.

On deck

Sox at Padres, 3:10 p.m. Tuesday, Peoria, Carlos Rodon vs. Joe Musgrove. This will be the second spring appearance and first start for Rodon, who is competing for a spot in the rotation.