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Stadium radar guns aren’t generally accurate to the number, but they can usually be measured against themselves. When I saw Dane Dunning pitch for the Winston-Salem Dash against the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C., last year, I wasn’t positive he threw exactly 95 mph, but it gave consistent, narrow ranges for his fastball, and one could notice a small drop-off when the error band centered on 93 mph in the sixth and seventh innings.
That same scoreboard was no such help for Dylan Cease on Sunday. It clocked three fastballs at 100 mph or more, including one at 102. It also clocked some fastballs at 91. It also missed some fastballs and measured the throws back to the mound, which were around 45 mph.
That being the case, I had to go with what the hitters were saying with their swings.
Through three innings, they were saying “uncle.” Look at this sequence against Weston Wilson, where Cease racked up three quick strikes with a well-located fastball, a fastball whiff and a swing over a curve.
Here’s Cease getting a lefty to swing over a backfoot breaking ball for strike three:
As the game went on, Carolina’s hitters started tracking his hook a little better. Here’s a battle with first-round pick Keston Hiura:
Cease fell behind 2-0, but came back to even the count with two strong fastballs. That set up a wipeout pitch. Cease didn’t quite bury it, but it wouldn’t have been a strike if Hiura watched it. Hiura offered, though, and a guy who topped a curve his first time up with a two-part swing his first time up looked more ready for it the second time around.
Still, Cease cruised through the first four innings, retiring the first 11 batters before a two-out single cancelled the postgame show.
The fifth inning was a different matter. Cease retired Ronnie Gideon on a popout, but walked Weston Wilson, his first free pass on the day. Luis Aviles Jr. followed by hitting a bouncer to short. It developed too slowly to be a double-play ball, but Yeyson Yrizarri couldn’t even get one out. First he struggled to get it out of his glove, and the subsequent high-arcing underhand flip to second wasn’t in time. Yrizarri briefly argued the call, but Wilson looked safe in real time, so the shortstop’s reaction might have been mere frustration.
Max McDowell capitalized on the error by singling home Carolina’s first run, cutting Winston-Salem’s lead in half. Ryan Aguilar, who was the strikeout victim in the second video, tried to tie the game with a squeeze. He bunted it right back to Cease, though, who flipped it home to Nate Nolan for a tag the plate. One problem: Nolan dropped the ball on the tag, the second run scored, and Cease still only had one out when he had gotten three of them.
Cease then created his own problems by walking Dallas Carroll, then walking Hiura with an 0-2 pitch. His day ended after a sac fly, and Matt Foster added another unearned run on Cease’s tab by throwing his first eight pitches out of the zone.
Cease pitched better than his final line — 4 2/3 innings, 2 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HBP — but one might not want to wave away all of his struggles on his defense. He only pitched six innings in three starts last year, so in-game endurance was already on his to-do list. He started missing armside and up with his fastball in the fifth, which also happened to be the first time he spent any prolonged time in the stretch.
But the good is obvious: 18 swinging strikes over 87 pitches, a fastball that Baseball America’s Josh Norris had 96-97, a big, sharp hook, and the slider helped him early as well. Here’s one that got a groundout, with assistance from Yrizarri’s arm.
I didn’t see much evidence of a changeup, although maybe because it comes in as hard as a lot of Carolina League fastballs. Assuming his defense doesn’t require him to record two extra outs an inning the second and third time through the order, I’m guessing he already has enough to work six innings on a more regular basis.
If you’re more into immediate gratification and would rather simply see Cease’s seven strikeout pitches, Norris has you covered.
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) April 9, 2018