Every time Dylan Cease pitched this year on MiLB TV, something went wrong with the feed from Eugene. Well, last night, everything finally went right with the TV side of things. About 9:05 P.M., Cease popped up on the computer in Eugene green and white and all was right with the world. There, in the last glitter of sunlight for the day, the young phenom stepped onto the mound for the Emeralds and a bolt of lightning emerged from his fingertips and was unleashed at the pesky Hillsboro Hops, mowing them down one by one…
At least that’s how I imagined it would be like. I didn’t expect that with two outs in the fifth inning Cease would call for the trainer and manager Jesus Feliciano to come out to the mound. At that point, Cease, with his ball still in his hand, reached up and touched his right shoulder and then soon walked off the mound. At the time of this post, no word has come out about his injury from Eugene or on Cease’s Twitter account. I’m hoping it’s just a soft tissue injury, or it could be just been a cramp as the temperature was near 100°. I think that’s the best we can hope for at this time.
Cease, a 20-year-old right-hander made his fifth start of the year and did not disappoint going 4.2 innings, given up 7 hits, 2 runs. He struck out 7 and walked only 2. Hillsboro came into the game at 11-13, 6 games behind the division-leading Emeralds. The Emeralds came into the game with a magic number of 9 for a first half short season division title. Cease had previously made four starts with a 3.18 ERA. He had struck out 16 batters in 17 innings, but opponents were only batting .203 off him.
Blow by Blow
At 6’2” and 190 pounds, Cease has a solid frame to build upon. His arm action is pretty clean and repeats his delivery well. He throws a fastball, normally around 95/96 but up to 100, a curveball, and a changeup. Drafted in the sixth round in 2014, Cease has been handled with kid gloves after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. He also has been surging up most prospect lists. Still, Cease was likely on pitch and inning limits of 70-80 pitches, and for now, it seems, 5 innings.
Throughout this year, Cease has had trouble getting out of the first inning. Tonight was no different. He gave up a leadoff double, followed by a pop-up, and a strikeout, all the while throwing 97-98 miles an hour. The TV announcer, Matt Dompe, mentioned the stadium gun might even bee off a tick or two. Regardless, a broken bat single soon followed to bring in a run and then Cease got 2 Ks in a row to end the inning. One thing I noticed when he threw a curveball was his hand action at the top of his delivery. When he throws a fastball, it’s one fluid motion. When he throws a curve ball there seems to be a tiny pause as his hand reaches the top part of his delivery. I don’t know if batters can pick that up. Cease did throw 17 pitches in the inning.
Cease labored quite a bit as he threw 25 pitches but did not give up a run. It seemed as though every batter reached a full count. He did walk a batter and give up an infield single before he retired the last batter on another strikeout. He still was throwing gas at 97 miles an hour at the end of the inning. At the rate he was going, he did not look like he was going to get to the fifth inning, even though he struck out three batters.
The third inning saw Cease at his most efficient all year. He needed just 12 pitches to make it through the inning, putting him at 54 for the game. This including striking out the last batter but needing 6 pitches to do so.
The fourth inning was weird as it looked as though he had picked off the first hitter, who had singled, at first base. The umpire called a balk on the pickoff attempt and the runner went to second base. Next thing you know, Cease tried to pick him off at second base and did. He would give up two more singles before getting a couple of pop ups and a fly out.
In the fifth, he looked pretty effortless throwing 96-97 miles an hour again as he went over 80 pitches. When he called out for the trainer in the manager to come to the mound, I thought everyone in the stadium gasped, including myself sitting at home in my office. At first, the worst thing came to mind and I thought elbow. But judging by Cease’s body actions, it appeared to be something higher, and based on the temperature, which was near 100° again, I’d have to go with that he might’ve been dehydrated or had muscle cramps. That is my hope for Cease, but then again. I’m just speculating, but maybe they see how is he today or in his side session on Thursday. There’s a lot we don’t know. At the minor league level, these things just take time before the truth is divulged.
What I Liked
From what I did see of Cease, I liked the fastball and that it stayed at 96 to 98 miles an hour all night. I don’t think that there was one time it dropped below 96. His fastball had a very clean and effortless delivery, although his command was all over the place the first two innings. When he spotted the fastball low in the zone in the third inning, he was quick and efficient. I also liked that he threw inside a lot, but not always with the best results. He does move the ball around the zone quite a bit in at bat and I like that, too.
Areas to Improve
I think the biggest area that he needs to improve on is the command on his fastball. At times he has pinpoint control low in the zone but as he goes higher he’s extremely wild, almost like Nook LaLoosh (Bull Durham) at times. His curveball looked good but the arm action on the curveball did not. It did not come out of his hand very smooth . Instead, it looked as though there is a little hick up in the delivery at the top of this before he lets the ball go. I also would like to see him throw his changeup more, but at this level, I think developing fastball command might be a more important issue.
Hopefully, we will find out later today what Cease’s prognosis is. I have my fingers crossed for cramping, dehydration or a soft tissue injury. I’m not going to go in the other direction, I just can’t.