Column: Dylan Cease’s future looks bright thanks to his pitching — and predictions — for the Chicago White Sox

“Bro, there ain’t gonna be any home runs today.”

Those were the famous last words of Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito after Dylan Cease predicted Tim Anderson was about to go yard last week at Wrigley Field.

Giolito’s statement made perfect sense.

It was cold and rainy, with a 23 mph wind blowing in from the north for the opening game of the City Series. Leading off the third inning, Anderson faced Keegan Thompson, who had not yielded a home run in 17⅔ innings entering the inning.

But Cease was undeterred.

“I believe in him,” Cease told Giolito. “I’m going to go ‘Home run over the Sloan (sign) in right field. Oppo home run.’”

Anderson quickly grabbed hold of a cut fastball on the first pitch and delivered it over the Sloan ad in right field. As the Sox dugout celebrated, Cease shook his head.

“I die a legend now,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

The serendipitous moment was captured on video for posterity and might have to go into a 2022 time capsule if the Sox make it to the World Series. Cease had been mic’d up for the NBC Sports Chicago telecast and knew his words would be remembered.

But anyone can predict a home run before a teammate’s at-bat and be right once in a while. Predicting exactly where Anderson’s would land at Wrigley made Cease into “Soxtradamus.” On his Instagram account, Cease boldly called it the “greatest called shot since Babe Ruth” before asking: “What should I predict next??”

Everything seems to be going right for Cease these days.

As he prepared for Thursday’s start in the opener of a big four-game series with the New York Yankees, the 26-year-old was tied for the American League lead with 47 strikeouts, compiling 28 over his last 18 innings. He had a 1.50 ERA over those three starts, dominating from the outset.

“Feels great,” Cease said during a recent sit-down in the Sox dugout. “If anything it’s just a big confidence booster to know the process we’re following is working. It’s just a continuation (of 2021), another year of experience, getting used to how you prepare and what you’re going to experience.”

The White Sox knew Cease had this in him. He was, after all, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect when acquired in the Eloy Jiménez deal in summer 2017. But command issues early in his career were a real concern. Even after he made 12 starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Sox didn’t trust him to start in the postseason series against the Oakland Athletics. Manager Rick Renteria wasted Cease for an inning of middle relief in Game 2 before employing the rest of the bullpen in the disastrous Game 3 loss that led to Renteria’s exit.

Cease cut his walk rate from 5.2 per 9 innings to 3.7 last season, going 13-7 with 226 strikeouts, third in the American League and tied for eighth-highest in franchise history. He called 2021 “the first year I sort of consistently proved” himself.

But in his postseason start against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, Cease was yanked by manager Tony La Russa with two outs in the third after walking his third hitter of the inning. The Sox trailed 3-1 in a must-win game, and La Russa had no patience for Cease’s control issues.

It was a disappointing ending to an otherwise successful season, and now Cease is building on those lessons and evolving into one of the league’s most feared starters.

“This is the first year where I feel like I’m bringing out my best self a majority of the time now,” he said, adding the support he has received from Sox fans “definitely is hyping me up.”

With Lance Lynn rehabbing from right knee surgery, Cease’s performance has become integral to the Sox staying above water in the Central. And with Giolito entering his walk season in 2023 without a realistic extension offer, the Sox might be counting on Cease and Michael Kopech to anchor the rotation down the road.

Kopech led all starters Wednesday with a 0.93 ERA. Cease was third in strikeouts per 9 innings with 12.4.

“They’ve both been everything that we could have asked for thus far into the season,” general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “Dylan obviously was a little farther ahead (this spring) than Michael … but Dylan has continued to do what we saw for the bulk of the second half of last season, and that’s establishing himself as one of the elite starters in this league.”

The future looks bright for Cease, who not only has lived up to the early hype but watched the video of his “Called Shot 2.0″ at Wrigley Field go viral.

“It definitely blew up for a day or two after,” he said with a grin. “I haven’t heard much about it since. I truly don’t know what happened. I blurted it out, and then a half-second later — bang — it happened. It was weird.”

After establishing a reputation as a soothsayer, Cease has been asked by some to make predictions on the spot. He has declined to do that so far but reserves the right to make more predictions when the time is right.

“We’ve got to save them until it really matters,” he said. “If I feel something real strong, maybe I’ll throw something out there. But for now we’re saving it.”

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