A day after celebrating their first division title in 13 years, the last thing the White Sox needed was a buzzkill.
It came in the form of right-hander Dylan Cease getting struck on the pitching arm by hard-hit ball in a 1-0 victory over the Indians on Friday at Progressive Field. Cease was excellent, pitching 5„ innings of three-hit ball with nine strikeouts before Bradley Zimmer’s 110 mph one-hopper struck him on the right triceps, too close to his elbow for comfort. After watching Cease take three warmup tosses, manager Tony La Russa did the expected thing and took the ball from a guy he’s going to need in the nearing postseason. X-rays were negative, and Cease is day-to-day.
“We caught a real break,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘It hit him in a part of the muscle, not sure it nicked the elbow. He felt good to throw. But I said, ‘You can be upset with me, but it’s not worth the risk.’ ’’
Cease (13-7, 3.95 ERA) threw 82 pitches, 50 for strikes. His breaking ball was big and crisp, his changeup was well-located and he had 17 swinging strikes. His 221 strikeouts are the ninth-highest for a Sox pitcher in a season.
But he knew coming out was the right thing to do. His arm felt heavy.
“It was apparent I wasn’t going to finish,” Cease said. “Nice little bruise. It feels good now. I don’t anticipate missing any time. I want to make one start before the postseason.”
Cease, who falls off the mound to his left after his delivery, had his back to the ball when he was struck. Ryan Burr relieved Cease, and Aaron Bummer, Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks finished off the shutout. Kimbrel had his best inning in a Sox uniform, striking out the side on 13 pitches.
Luis Robert’s home run against Trevor Stephan was all that was needed.
With eight games left in the regular season, the Sox can’t afford to lose Cease as they prepare for the postseason. Left-hander Carlos Rodon is dealing with shoulder soreness, and Lucas Giolito (hamstring) and Lance Lynn (knee) are working their way back after stints on the injured list.
The Sox (87-67) clinched the American League Central on Thursday, and after celebrating, they went nine up, nine down to open the game. Blame it on the party the night before or blame it on former Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, the more likely culprit.
In any event, the Sox did have their fun after clinching the division.
“It’ll be interesting to see today,” La Russa said before the game. “I mean, they celebrated hard, well-deserved, long into the morning.”
If video of champagne corks popping and bubbly spraying in the visitors’ clubhouse was an indication, no one doubts it. And those were just the first sips, sprays and primal screams.
“But they’re all playing,” La Russa said. “We’ll see how much energy they’ve got. I know they want to be out there.
The importance of going into the postseason playing well can be debated, but hovering around .500 since the All-Star break and going 14-12 in the last 26 games is worth noting. Whether it matters or not, La Russa wants to see an improved level of play in the last seven games.
“When your magic number gets into single digits, that’s when you really get serious,” he said. “We’ve been in single digits for a period of time, and there are times when you can see the trouble really concentrating. But it’s a challenge that the staff has made to [the players].”
Cease said the Sox got back to business Friday.
“We had a good time last night,” Cease said, “but at the end of the day, it’s just the beginning. We didn’t come here to win the AL championship, we came here to win a World Series. We’re all pretty locked in for what needs to come next.”