White Sox manager Tony La Russa’s confidence in starter Dylan Cease against the Rays on Friday night seemed to come with a tad of doubt.
“If he’s pitching the way he’s been pitching, he’s got a chore. They’re a very professional hitting club,” La Russa said prior to the game. “He’s geared as far as the number of pitches he can throw as much as anybody we’ve got on the staff. I expect him to be sharp, but it’s going to be a competition. They’re good over there.”
Cease indeed came through with a top-notch performance that not only gave the White Sox a chance to win, but might have earned him a little more rope from his manager. The 26-year-old right-hander was sharp throughout, allowing one run on three singles and a walk, with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to lead the Sox to a 3-2 victory at Guaranteed Rate Field.
He became the first Sox starter to get an out in the sixth inning, but after striking out Randy Arozarena for the second out in the sixth with a runner on first, he was lifted after 91 pitches and a 3-0 lead — and received a standing ovation from the crowd of 19,009 on a mid-40s night.Sox starters have a 2.64 ERA in the first seven games of the season — allowing 18 hits and 13 walks, with 33 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.
Starting pitchers are being handled carefully after the shortened spring training following the lockout. But Cease looks ready to go a longer distance. The early hook loomed larger when Ji-Man Choi doubled on a deep fly to center that just eluded a reaching attempt by Luis Robert. Brandon Lowe scored on the hit to cut the Sox lead to 3-1.
Yandy Diaz followed with an opposite-field double down the right-field line to score Choi and make it 3-2. Bummer recovery to get out of the sixth inning when pinch-hitter Mike Zunino flied to center.
Until Cease left, the Sox were on their way to tidy victory against a quality team following a loss to the Mariners on Thursday night.
Gavin Sheets hit a ground-rule double to right and scored on a wild pitch in the second inning for a 1-0 lead. Third baseman Jake Burger hit a 430-foot homer to left leading off the third inning to give the Sox a 2-0 lead.
But the offensive highlight came from second baseman Leury Garcia, who doubled down the left-field line to lead off the fifth-inning for his first hit of the season — snapping an 0-for-18 start.
Garcia, who rallied from a similar tough start last season, made the most of the moment –with a big smile as he doffed his hat, raised his arms in exultation and motioned for the ball. It was the feel-good moment of the night.
And Garcia’s hit made a difference. He advance to third on Andrew Vaughn’s ground out to second and scored on Burger’s single to right for a 3-0 lead.
Bummer pitched a scoreless seventh inning. Kendall Graveman pitched a scoreless eighth.And Liam Hendriks pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the first time this season as the Sox improved to 5-2.
After his team laid a foundation in spring training, La Russa likes what he sees.
“We’ve played two series with a lot of energy and a lot of real good execution. We got beat twice,” he said. “That tells me the fans are going to enjoy the effort and the attempt at execution we are going to put on for six months.
“What the record is … that’s why you play the games. The other team has talent, but we are going to take our shot. They know it. They are not going to back off it.”