After two brilliant outings to open the season, Dylan Cease hit a roadblock. A pair of subpar performances followed, but the best tend to find their footing.
The third-ranked White Sox prospect looked much more like his normal self, striking out 11 -- one shy of his career high -- while allowing two runs on five hits and a walk over six innings Tuesday in Triple-A Charlotte's 4-2 loss to Gwinnett at BB&T Ballpark.
Video: Charlotte's Cease fans 11th
MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect breezed through the first turn of the Stripers lineup, facing the minimum. He allowed a one-out single to Sal Giardina in the third but promptly coaxed a double play grounder from Luis Marte.
Cease ran into trouble in the fourth. After fanning Rafael Ortega for the first out, Andres Blanco and Braves No. 5 prospect Austin Riley reached on back-to-back singles. Hot-hitting Adam Duvall chased them home with a double to left field that tied the game at 2-2. Cease buckled down to strike out Pedro Florimon and Travis Demeritte, limiting the damage.
The 23-year-old put the first two batters on in the fifth by walking Ryan LaMarre and plunking Giardina. He and 12th-ranked White Sox prospect Zack Collins combined on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play before Ortega flied out to end the inning.
Gameday box score
Cease allowed a leadoff double to Blanco in the sixth. He whiffed Riley, retired Duvall on a groundout, then stamped an exclamation point on his outing by fanning Florimon for his 11th punchout. He threw 58 of 80 pitches for strikes.
The White Sox acquired Cease from the Cubs in the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline deal that sent Jose Quintana to the North Side and brought back a prospect haul that included the Georgia native and current third overall prospect Eloy Jimenez, who started the year in the Majors.
After promising seasons through his first three years in the Minors, Cease broke out in 2018. Between Class A Advanced Winston-Salem (13 starts) and Double-A Birmingham, the Futures Game selection went 12-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 160 strikeouts over 124 innings. Even more impressive, his numbers improved following his promotion to the Southern League.
The year ended with Cease being named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star and 2019 began with him on the cusp of the big leagues with Charlotte following a brief appearance in Spring Training, where he allowed one run over 2 2/3 innings.
"He's got four plus pitches and he can throw them all for strikes," White Sox director of player development Chris Getz told MiLB.com in March. "Now it's about being able to locate in all quadrants. But his pitches have great spin rate, and we like where he's at physically and from a maturity standpoint. We wanted a season's worth of innings last year, and he went beyond expectations there. We're confident he's gonna have another great season and we'll see where he finishes."
Before the season, the White Sox and Cease's camp reportedly held contract extension discussions. With the Knights, his first two starts were typically dominant -- a pair of scoreless five-inning efforts. It'd been more than seven months since he'd seen game action, as Chicago opted to protect one of its premium assets by shutting him down in late August.
2019 MiLB include
"At the end of the day, pitching's all about how you execute pitches and not giving away bases is a big part of it," he told MiLB.com following his first start. "I felt comfortable the whole game, once I started mixing in the off-speed. I felt like that was when I was able to start cruising."
But he allowed five runs -- three earned -- on four hits in 4 2/3 frames on April 20 at Norfolk, then surrendered six runs -- four earned -- on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings five days later against Toledo.
Riley, MLB.com's No. 35 overall prospect, had two hits and scored twice for the Stripers. Gwinnett starter and Braves No. 7 prospect Bryse Wilson struck out seven and yielded two runs on three hits and a walk over 4 2/3 innings.