January 29, 2023

White Sox’ Dylan Cease struggling at the wrong time

If Dylan Cease was auditioning Sunday for a chance to be the No. 3 starter in the White Sox’ playoff rotation, well, let’s just say rookie Dane Dunning might want to circle Oct. 1 on his calendar.

That’s when the Sox would play Game 3 of their best-of-three wild-card series against an opponent to be determined. With Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel all but certain to the start the first two games, avoiding Cease in the ‘‘if necessary’’ deciding game, given the awful control problems he’s working through, seems to be a no-brainer. With the Sox trying to protect their lead in the American League Central, Cease walked seven in three-plus innings in a 7-3 loss to the host Reds.

‘‘This one we want to throw in the garbage, move on, not make too much of it,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.

Cease, who has an upper-90s fastball, sharp breaking stuff and a 3.52 ERA that looks good on the surface, will have another start (probably Friday against the Cubs) to get things fixed. With 12 walks in his last 7‰ innings, a big fix is in order, although Cease seemed to think it’s a simple one.

‘‘I was yanking my fastball today,’’ Cease said. ‘‘Mainly not having a feel for the fastball is what did me in.’’

Renteria and pitching coaches Don Cooper and Curt Hasler were expected to go over Cease’s performance late Sunday ‘‘to get to the bottom of what corrections need to be made.’’

‘‘We have seven [games] left; we’ll see where we’re at,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘Certainly when we get into the postseason, we want [our starters] to be able to get through at minimum five innings. You don’t want to stress your bullpen every single day.’’

If Cease doesn’t get right and get right quickly, the Sox might turn to Dunning (2-0, 2.33 ERA), whose command has been much sharper, for that start. The Sox are 5-0 in Dunning’s starts, and he’ll make his sixth one Monday against the Indians. In his last start, Dunning held the Twins to two runs in a career-high seven innings.

‘‘I feel really comfortable now, yes,’’ Dunning said after beating the Twins. ‘‘I’m just enjoying myself right now. I’m happy to be where I’m at.’’

Cease, meanwhile, looked stressed, even though he struck out five and didn’t allow a hit. The three runs charged to him scored with Ross Detwiler pitching after Cease had walked the first three batters in the fourth inning. He had stranded five runners in the second and third.

Cease worked from the stretch to start the game at the suggestion of catcher James McCann, and the results were good: a perfect first inning on 10 pitches. But after striking out Eugenio Suarez leading off the second, Cease walked Mike Moustakas and had no choice but to pitch from the stretch for the rest of his day.

With Detwiler adding three walks, Sox pitchers walked 10 batters in four innings for the first time since May 7, 1992, when Charlie Hough (five) and Wilson Alvarez (seven) walked 12 against the Red Sox. The last team to do that was the Expos against the Phillies in 2002.

Jose Abreu (2-for-3) collected his 53rd RBI in 53 games, Nick Madrigal was 2-for-3 with an RBI and Edwin Encarnacion homered after striking out in his first three at-bats. Other than that, there was nothing good about this one.

Renteria needs Cease to get going in the right direction. After all, should the Sox advance past the wild-card round, a fourth starter will be needed.

‘‘A lot of it is internal,’’ Cease said. ‘‘At the end of the day, just because it happened one outing doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the next one. There’s no need for me to get super-down on myself. I just have to put in the work and keep moving forward.’’

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