Shortstop Tim Anderson and right-hander Dylan Cease needed to regain some sharpness.
Mission accomplished Friday.
Starting for a second consecutive day, Anderson led off and scored twice to help the White Sox top the Rangers 8-0 in Arlington, Texas. Anderson doubled in his first at-bat and played seven innings before Gavin Sheets pinch-hit for him to begin the eighth with the Sox well ahead.
Cease, meanwhile, threw five scoreless innings to help the Sox trim their magic number to clinch the American League Central to five.
Getting the division clinched as quickly as possible is part of the Sox’ plan. The plan for Anderson wasn’t going to include playing in back-to-back games just yet after coming off the injured list Tuesday, and the Sox’ first lineup had Romy Gonzalez starting at short.
About a half-hour later, Anderson was in the lineup for a second straight day after playing Thursday. Gonzalez, who had three hits and scored two runs, shifted to right to make way for Anderson, whose ability to play in consecutive games is a good sign for the Sox as the playoffs creep closer.
“I think the plan was every other day for at least three or four days, three or four games active,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He really feels like he can go today. We said, ‘OK, you’re good to go.’ ’’
Cease also was good to go in his first start since the Red Sox tagged him for seven runs in 2⅔ innings last Saturday. He labored through the first two innings, needing 25 pitches to get through each inning. But instead of letting the game get away from him like it did against Boston, Cease struck out 10, walked two and got 17 swinging strikes on 92 pitches.
“I just locked down and upped my focus, then it finally clicked,” Cease said.
“I’ve got to get into a rhythm a little bit quicker.”
It was Cease’s eighth game with at least 10 strikeouts in 2021, moving him to 212.
The Sox got a scare in the first inning when Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s sharp grounder hit Cease in the right leg, but there was no apparent damage.
Like Cease, the Sox need Anderson to stay healthy. Anderson is getting better physically and took another step toward the ultimate goal of getting back to his best. But the Sox were going to be cautious with Anderson, even though he scored from first on Luis Robert’s three-run double in the fourth inning. Anderson also trotted home on Jose Abreu’s sacrifice fly in the first inning.
“Well, Tim just feels like he’s good to play a couple in a row; it would help his timing,” La Russa said.
“He’d like to get back in the swing of feeling good, playing in the field. If he says he feels good, we trust him.”
Playing in the field has brought some hiccups for Anderson. He committed one error in his comeback Tuesday, then two more Thursday, accounting for a third of his 2021 total.
La Russa implied that Anderson hasn’t been as sharp defensively since coming back from the injured list, even if the difference might be hard to discern.
“I think so much of defensive play is seeing and reacting,” La Russa said. “I think he can see; that’s what spring training’s for. You can see whether it’s being a tick slow on something. It’s not real obvious.”
As for Gonzalez, he had another career highlight after his pitching cameo Thursday. In two days, he pitched for the first time, then had his first three-hit game, something he didn’t expect.
“Never in a million years,” Gonzalez said. “Never.’’
In general, the Sox played a much cleaner game Friday than they did during Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Angels.
“It was a completely well-played game,” La Russa said. “It was a pleasure to watch.”