CLEVELAND — The feeling in the Chicago White Sox' clubhouse after Dylan Cease made an early exit Friday night?
That could have been a lot worse.
Already with one starting pitcher's status up in the air closing in on the postseason, the last thing the White Sox needed to see Friday was another one go down. Cease took a batted ball off his throwing arm in the sixth inning Friday night, bringing an early end to his in-progress gem of an outing.
The right-hander attempted to throw some warm-up pitches after a visit from the trainer, but manager Tony La Russa pulled the plug on Cease's night right there.
Still, after the game, all parties were relieved that the ball caught Cease in the triceps, leaving a bruise, rather than hitting him in the elbow, where things could have been significantly more concerning, and Cease was optimistic that he would make his final regular-season start as scheduled.
"It could have been a lot worse," Cease said. "I think it's fine."
"I thought we caught a real break," La Russa said.
Indeed, Cease not being affected for longer than it takes his bruise to heal is a big break for the White Sox, who are waiting to see how Carlos Rodón's persistent shoulder soreness goes over the next week and change before determining his status for the playoffs. While getting a Rodón-sized hole blown in their October rotation would obviously be a big deal, it would be downright disastrous to lose two of their top four starting pitchers ahead of a championship chase.
Fortunately for the White Sox, there seemed to be no fear of that happening Friday night.
In fact, if anything, Friday night was a mighty positive sign for Cease and what kind of role he could play come the postseason. Obviously he was already assured to be part of the White Sox' pitching plans, but without Rodón, he could become even more important. Outings like Friday's — 5.1 scoreless innings and nine strikeouts — showed he can be counted on to be as important as the team needs him to be.
"He's been improving every time out there," La Russa said. "He's a smart guy, he's well coached. ... He understands sometimes where the little adjustment is, and he can take it out there and make it.
"But a lot of it has to do with just how competitive he is, how much he likes to get hitters out. He likes the game between hitter and pitcher, and he rises to the occasion."