White Sox’ Dylan Cease rising near top with elite stuff; you can bet on it

After his breakout season in 2021, Cease is taking another step higher.

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White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease delivers during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels on May 2, 2022.

“He could possibly be a Cy Young winner,” White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal said of Dylan Cease. “He’s got the tools to do it, there’s no doubt on that.”

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Two betting services updating odds for postseason awards this week listed White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease sixth among Cy Young Award candidates behind Alek Manoah, Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber.

The respect for Cease comes after he pitched what he called the best game of his career when he struck out 11 Angels, walked none and gave up one hit in seven innings Monday afternoon. It started a three-game winning streak the Sox will take into a weekend series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park starting Friday night.

Citing “a combination of stuff, execution and results,” Cease raved about his pitching, which he never does. Usually the 26-year-old, who was listed third in the rotation coming out of spring training, evaluates his good performances as just OK.

He has high standards, as well he should.

“His stuff has always been elite, elite, elite,” Sox starter Lucas Giolito said this week.

Noting the life on his 97 mph four-seam fastball and the spin and bite on his curve and slider leaves no choice but to agree. Frank Thomas has raved about Cease’s changeup, which Cease calls his worst pitch. His changeup was outstanding Monday.

What Cease has shown then in five starts isn’t surprising. While Lance Lynn and 2021 Opening Day starter Giolito were manager Tony La Russa’s options to start the season opener — Lynn and Giolito finished third and 11th, respectively, in 2021 Cy voting — Cease was the fashionable pick by many to be the Sox’ top Cy candidate. Catcher Yasmani Grandal saw that ability when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training — in 2021.

“He could possibly be a Cy Young winner,” Grandal said. “He’s got the tools to do it; there’s no doubt about that.”

Thanks, Cubs!

Apologies for stealing that Jason Benetti dig heard after one of Eloy Jimenez’s many big hits against the organization that traded him and Cease for Jose Quintana in 2017. Cease has blossomed since.

Cease was 4-7 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 starts in 2019, his first season. He went 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 12 starts in the abbreviated 2020 season but faded with command problems late and wasn’t trusted to start in the postseason. With Ethan Katz as the new pitching coach in 2021, Cease went 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA while striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings, the best in the American League.

And he’s 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA and is averaging 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings this season. He hasn’t missed a start in his career.

“First year was his first taste and getting used to everything,” Giolito said. “Having some struggles, learning from those. And then last year was the breakout year. And now, with his Cy Young-caliber stuff and the work he has put in, physically and mentally preparing himself for starts, he has been fantastic.

“He’s a big-time student of pitching. Through this entire process, he’s recognized things he needs to improve to become more consistent.”

Commanding that elite stuff is all there is to it now.

“That’s definitely the last part of developing,” Cease said. “A lot of it is repetition and experience. Being able to relax and focus on what I want to do, and when I’ve had that much repetition and experience the last couple of years, it’s clicking a little bit.”

As for that odds list, having three starters on it and Lynn (top six in AL Cy Young voting the last three seasons) bodes well for the Sox. Lynn is expected back in late May after having knee surgery. Cease, meanwhile, keeps trending upward.

“That was impressive to watch Monday,” Giolito said. “But I think we’re going to see a hell of a lot more of that.”

NOTE: As expected, outfielder Andrew Vaughn landed on the 10-day injured list Thursday after missing five games with a bruised right hand. Infielder Danny Mendick was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

The move is retroactive to Monday. Vaughn could come off next Thursday.

WHITE SOX AT RED SOX

Friday: Vince Velasquez (1-2, 4.58 ERA) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.51), 6:10 p.m, Apple TV+, 1000-AM.

Saturday: TBA vs. Nick Pivetta (0-4, 7.84), 3:10 p.m., NBCSCH, 1000-AM.

Sunday: TBA vs. Michael Wacha (3-0, 1.38), 10:35 a.m., NBC, Peacock, 1000-AM.

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