White Sox starting pitchers have fed off each other — encouraging, poking, pushing and motivating — during the first five weeks of a season that saw them evolve into the best rotation in the game.
That rotation that owns a major league best 2.74 ERA after Dylan Cease allowed three runs over five innings in the Sox’ 9-3 win against the defending AL Central champion Twins Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field is also listening to each other. One behind the scenes thing at play is the newest member of the rotation, Lance Lynn, who turns 34 Wednesday, pouring wisdom into the 25-year-old Cease.
Cease, who walked two, hit two batters and allowed five hits including a homer to Jorge Polanco in the Twins’ three-run second, struck out seven Twins and got 20 swings and misses, a career high. After a bumpy second inning, Cease responded with three scoreless innings.
“The first place the game was won was Dylan Cease because he held that game, got himself back together and competed his butt off,” manager Tony La Russa said.
“He’s developing the kind of command that makes a starting pitcher special. And he’s showing some competitive toughness.”
Cease’s high ceiling was demonstrated in his two consecutive scoreless starts leading to Tuesday’s outing, a 13-inning block of work with 20 strikeouts and four singles and three walks allowed.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal, who preceded Jose Abreu’s two-run go-ahead homer in the sixth with a tying three-run homer against Kenta Maeda in the second, boldly said in February that Cease can be a Cy Young winner. Former All-Star Lance Lynn sees the ability, too.
“He’s got such great stuff and everyone wants to tell him, ‘Do this, this and this and throw strikes, right?” Lynn said. “And I think he’s got so much stuff going on in his head.”
Cease can get consumed by his delivery and mechanics. Lynn told him to think less and just throw the baseball.
In other words, keep it simple.
“I talked to him, ‘Hey what are you thinking? What’s your process? Where are you at?’ ’’ Lynn said. “And then the only thing that matters is the end product and end results and then you back track from there.”
Release points and staying closed should be dealt with between starts, Lynn told Cease.
“But when you are pitching, the only thing that matters is making the pitch and attacking hitters,” Lynn said. “Hit the spot, don’t think about anything else and say, ‘Here it is, hit it.’ ’’
Cease (2.80 ERA) said Tuesday’s outing was “kind of a grind and it got away from me a little bit. A little erratic there but finished strong and kept them at three.”
After Abreu’s homer, the Sox tacked on with an RBI single by Tim Anderson and RBI double by Adam Eaton in the seventh and RBI singles by Leury Garcia and Nick Madrigal in the eighth.
Garrett Crochet pitched out of a jam and got his first major league win, one of five pitchers to combine on four innings of scoreless relief.
The Sox (20-13) won their fourth straight, taking down the struggling Twins (12-21) in the teams’ first matchup of the season.
Meanwhile, the starters continue to be front and center.
“We are starting to get to know each other as the season goes on,” Lynn said. “So everybody is starting to shoot things off each other, starters or relievers. Anything I can do to help, especially help the team win, that’s what I’m all about and why I’m here. I enjoy it.”
The rotation owns a 2.44 ERA over its last 26 games. Michael Kopech, who might get another spot start in a doubleheader Friday against the Royals, has a hand in that with two starts.
“This is what we envisioned,” Keuchel said. “Even last year hoping Rodon and Cease taking that step forward. They have been nothing short of spectacular. You’re only as good as your next day’s starter.”