White Sox’ Dylan Cease pitching, thinking like an All-Star

SAN FRANCISCO — Dylan Cease is not going to lie. The possibility of being an All-Star has more than crossed his mind.

“That would be unbelievably cool,” Cease said. “It would be a dream come true.”

Cease could make four starts before the American League pitching staff is named, but his credentials going into his start against the Giants Saturday are good: An ERA of 2.56 that ranks ninth in the majors, 13.44 strikeouts per nine innings that ranks first and 121 strikeouts ranking second behind Shane McClanahan.

“It’s not the No. 1 focus but it’s one of those where we’re close enough to the game where it’s definitely more on the mind,” said Cease, who would be a first-time All-Star.

“Try not to jinx it. We’re also trying to focus on what we’re doing here [as a team]. It really isn’t something I’m fixated on but I’d be lying if I said it was a small thought.”

Cease has progress from year to year since he was a rookie in 2019. His ERA from year to year: 5.79, 4.01, 3.91, 2.56. His strikeouts per nine innings: 10.9, 6.8, 12.3, 13.4.

“I’m happy I found a process for me that is very repeatable,” Cease said. “It’s made it easier for me to adjust on the go. Really just having experience now, it’s helping me build confidence every time I go out there and it builds on itself. More success, more results.

“When you fail you go back to the drawing board, you rebuild yourself again and so on and so forth. I’m at a point where I really am confident in rebuilding myself and my process.”

Cease always had the stuff – upper 90s velocity, hard slider, knuckle curveball and changeup — to be a Cy Young caliber pitcher. After not being trusted to start in the 2020 Wild Card due to late season command problems, he established career highs in numerous categories in 2021, including an AL best 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. His slider is on point this season, and his command overall is more consistent than in years past.

“Best slider I’ve had in my career, for sure,” he said.

And the command, “yes, it’s all in a pretty good spot right now.”

Cease would like to cut down his walks – his 37 bases on balls leads the majors and he’s averaging 4.1 per nine innings, which hikes his pitch counts and can hinder his ability to pitch deeper into games – but his fielding independent pitching ERA is 2.51, third in the majors behind Kevin Gausman (1.71) and former teammate Carlos Rodon (2.31).

When he came off the field after striking out 13 Orioles in seven innings in his last start Sunday, Cease, as reserved as they come, raised his arms to the crowd, prompting them to get up and make some noise. Cease got the win that day, his team-best sixth against three losses.

“Good, good,” manager Tony La Russa said when told of Cease’s display of exuberance. “There is a lot to him. He’s got some depth personally and professionally. I didn’t know he did that but he knows he’s stepping up and he embraces it. And we’re lucky he does.”

The All-Star Game is July 19 in Los Angeles. All said and done, Cease is having an All-Star caliber first half, which he attributes to three things.

“Focus, practice and experience,” he said. “But a big part is honing in on what I have to do to feel certain things and learning myself, really.”

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