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

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 Coleand 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 Sox winning streak they’ll 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 starting 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 this season 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 on that.”

Thanks, Cubs!

That Jason Benetti dig heard after one of Jimenez’ 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 was 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA while striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings, the best in the AL.

And he’s 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 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’s 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 years, it’s clicking a little bit.”

As for that list, having three starters on it and Lynn (top six in AL Cy Young voting in each of 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 helluva 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, in seven days.

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