Dylan Cease’s 2021 debut was good stuff

Dylan Cease opened his first Cactus League start of the 2021 season with two outs over the course of four pitches covering three different pitch types. All were strikes.

Ian Happ opened with a first-pitch groundout, and Willson Contreras followed him to the plate. His attempts to lure Cease into trouble by taking were similarly unsuccessful. After taking a first-pitch fastball for strike one, Contreras couldn’t get started on a sharp front-door curveball for strike two.

That put Cease in a situation that has eluded him for much of his MLB career — the putaway pitch. Either he struggled to muscle a count into his favor, or his tendency to pull everything he throws turned most non-strike breaking balls into waste pitches. His strikeout rate consequently suffered.

Against Contreras, however, he wasted nothing. Look at this slider.

And so Cease set sail for a successful debut. The box score shows three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and zero walks while striking out two. The box score does not show a pitch count, but here’s my unofficial tally:


He threw 37 pitches and got six swinging strikes. The specific pitches might be off here and there, due to the lack of public-facing velocity readings, the camera’s severe offset, and some pitches that were spun or spiked too severely to be distinguishable without more info. On the plus side, it’s also possible that I confused a curve for a slider because both had power and sharpness.

We’ve seen Cease in command for a spring start at a time, so opening his year 1-for-1 isn’t by itself sufficient for excitement. Fortunately, Cease was so flawed during the 2020 season that he doesn’t need to fix everything in order to function as an effective starter.

For example, it still looks like he’s dealing with fastball cut that doesn’t necessarily help him. Eric Sogard accounted for the lone hit off Cease with a flared single to center field. If Cease threw the four-seamer of his dreams, it probably should have sailed above Sogard’s bat, at least enough to result in a foul ball for a two-strike count.

But glass half full, Jonathan Lucroy set up away to a left-handed hitter, and Cease stayed away from a left-handed hitter, which allowed him to stay off the barrel.

Similarly, you could see some horizontal movement on this jam sandwich by Ildemaro Vargas …

… but it was to the desired side of the plate, and again resulted in weak contact.

The fastball paired well with other pitches, too. When Cease located one low and away to Matt Duffy to even the count at 2-2, he snapped off a slider that fooled Duffy into seeing a pitch with similar intentions.

Likewise, here’s Happ too far in front of a curve his second time up, then late on a high fastball, turning a 1-0 count into a 1-2 advantage for Cease.

Did Ethan Katz magically solve all of Dylan Cease’s problems? Probably not. But Cease’s scouting report was so brief last year that any one improvement probably reduces the severity of other flaws. Hitters could basically focus on two pitches and one half of the plate. They took 83 percent of the curves Cease threw last year, because 63 percent of them weren’t strikes. Having to consider swinging at a good knuckle curve makes it harder to swing with conviction on fastballs. Having to cover both sides of the plate makes meeting a heater with the barrel a bigger challenge, even if it’s cutting when it’s supposed to rise.

The frustrating thing about Cease is also the encouraging thing: He hasn’t given himself a chance. He’s lacked the basic control to get ahead in the count or pitch backward, so we’re not sure what it looks like when he forces hitters to make or break the day on a routine basis. If his debut is representative of the future, it should be more than enough for the fourth spot in the rotation.

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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karkovice squad

Spin efficiency aside, it’s encouraging to see his legs, torso, and arms look like they aren’t controlled by 3 different puppeteers.

Is there a pattern to when he does the high leg followthrough vs the shorter finish?


This makes me very happy. He could be the key to the rotation this year.


Sox just signed Billy Hamilton… I am not going to take that as a news of something bad with Robert’s injury cause I am in a good mood today.


In the MLB Trade Rumors article on Hamilton, it mentions that the Sox 40 man roster is full and that Lucroy and Vaughn aren’t on it yet. Who get chopped to make room? Blake Rutherford? Micker? Probably one of Seby or Mercedes, right?


When you never need to pinch hit for anyone in your lineup, you can afford to carry a pinch-running specialist on the bench.

Eagle Bones

If they can’t fix the cut on his fastball, I wonder if he’d benefit from doing what Corbin Burnes did last season and just lean into it with a true cutter and counter that with a two-seamer? I wish I would have thought of this earlier and emailed Katz…

karkovice squad

Or just throw more breaking pitches like Corbin, Patrick.


Rodon looks sharp today against the Padres. Struck out Machado and Myers in 2 perfect innings.


4 strikeouts thru 3 shutout innings! If Cease and Rodon keep this up, it’s going to be a really fun year!


Hopefully the baseball gods smile upon Rodon for a change. At least give him a break and let him stay healthy for the better part of a season, or a whole one. I think the 5th starter is his based on his performance today and Lopez’s last outing. They are going to be beastly if Rodon can pitch anything like today some of the time. Go Carlos!!


even if they take turns keeping this up it will be fun.


Sox rotation looking pretty nice going into the season. All top 5 guys have had promising outings so far. Backup guys (Steiver, Lopez…etc) a lot less so. Could get serious if rotation injuries pile up.


yes, but I’d even say those backup guys have been encouraging. The results haven’t been great, but both seem to be heading in good directions with velocity being back up and Lopez making what seem like good adjustments. We could even add Jimmy Lambert!

Long way to go, obviously, but the reports from that amalgam of backend of the rotation types have been about as good as we could hope.


out of the AAA/AAAA fodder and depth options like Lopez Stiever Flores Lambert. etc Jimmy Lambert has definitely looked the best.


I wouldn’t hate it if rather than using Kopech in high leverage situations, they use him as a piggyback to Rodon/Cease/whoever early on. Or a long reliever. Start stretching him out from day 1, so if somebody does go down, he’s ready to step into the rotation.

Obviously, that’s not a great long-term solution for the guy who might have the best stuff on your pitching staff; I of course would prefer not to see him coming into the game in the 5th inning against the bottom of the rotation in the middle of the summer. But the rotation isn’t going to stay healthy all season, and he’s likely the best option available for the 6th SP in the entire organization.


The nice part about starting Kopech in the bullpen is that you can see how things progress over the first month or two. I assume right now they are thinking exactly what you propose: start him in low leverage innings to cap his innings for the year and slowly stretch him out to slot in the rotation when needed (and he likely *will* be needed).

However, in the unlikely event that things change—perhaps a key injury in the bullpen and the Cease/Rodon combo miraculously are both good and healthy—you can keep Kopech slotted in the pen.


I think Hahn and or TLR commented on this that the plan basically is for Kopech to kinda be the long guy /piggy back in games that are still in question, where as Crochett is going to be a late inning weapon to start the season.


I’ll bet a dollar to donuts that Kopech is starting in the playoffs – and they’ll be managing his season with that potential in mind.


Beautiful, I love that plan.