Dylan Cease reflects on rookie season, abruptly ended by hamstring strain

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Dylan Cease was supposed to make one more start to finish off his rookie season, but after tweaking his hamstring Thursday night, his campaign is over.

Cease suffered a hamstring strain while warming up in the bullpen ahead of Thursday night’s game against the playoff-chasing Cleveland Indians, scratched from the start. The White Sox will learn more about the severity of the injury when Cease undergoes an MRI on Friday, but manager Rick Renteria made it clear that, regardless of the results, Cease won’t be making a start during this weekend’s four-game set with the Detroit Tigers.

Cease said he didn’t think the injury was serious, so it was instead time to reflect upon his rookie year.

“This was a really good season for me,” he said. “I didn't necessarily perform how I would have liked to, but I learned a lot from it. So I feel excited for next year.”

The numbers don’t look pretty, Cease finishing with a 5.79 ERA in his 14 big league starts. There were some flashes of brilliance in there, of course, chiefly a pair of September starts against division rivals: an 11-strikeout effort against the Indians and the six innings of one-run ball he threw against the Tigers.

But it’s impossible to argue that Cease lived up to the sky-high expectations of White Sox fans when he arrived on the South Side. Those expectations, realistic or not, have accompanied and will continue to accompany every high-profile promotion. Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez dealt with them. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal will deal with them.

As many of these young White Sox stars in the making have shown, it can just take time to acclimate to the major leagues. Any struggles in the first taste of the bigs should never strike as unexpected, and Cease is no exception. Giolito, who has acted as a mentor of sorts to Cease, had the worst statistics in baseball last season, only to learn from those experiences and come out the other end an All Star and the ace of the staff. There’s nothing saying Cease can’t follow a similar trajectory.

So what did he learn?

“A lot of it was just continuing to battle when you don't necessarily feel good and continuing to prepare and treat every start like you're supposed to,” Cease said. “I feel really good with the experience I got this season.”

Cease figures to be a part of a different-looking rotation when next spring rolls around. Yes, he and Giolito will still be in two of those spots. But the return of Kopech will give the White Sox another young arm to develop into the homegrown bulk of a contending rotation. And general manager Rick Hahn has starting pitching on his offseason shopping list. After the organization’s major league ready depth in that department was worn bare this season, it wouldn’t shock to see the team add multiple arms this winter.

“I think the talent is there,” Cease said. “If Gio has another year like he did and Kopech and everybody comes back, I think we can be really good.”

Cease remains a key cog, and his development will be a focal point next season. The White Sox, with a young core falling into place and an aggressive offseason on the horizon, could look to make the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode in 2020. That could place great importance on Cease being able to turn in much better results than he did as a rookie.

That means, for one thing, avoiding the early game troubles that dogged him this season. His first- and second-inning ERAs both finished north of 9.00.

But undoubtedly the flashes of the future were there, and the White Sox will likely look to that as a positive development in 2019. Cease was happy with his rookie season, even though he fell one start short of completing it.

Cease is here, he’s a big leaguer, something White Sox fans were begging for for a long time. Now their attention will turn to what he can do at the major league level — and in a 2020 season where things will be expected to go much differently on the South Side.

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