Dylan Cease pitches to AJ Pollock Sunday in Peoria. (Daryl Van Schouwen/Sun-Times)
PEORIA, Ariz. — Dylan Cease threw four innings of one-run ball against the Mariners on Sunday, finishing strong after a 30-pitch first inning in which he faced six batters.
Cease started getting ahead with his breaking pitches and was perfect in the second, third and fourth innings. He was pulled after Kean Wong led off the fifth with a single to left. Cease threw 74 pitches.
“I’m very pleased with where I’m at,” said Cease, who was bombed for 11 runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Royals in his first start. “The last couple of starts I’ve shown spurts of where I am, and then I’m starting to do it more consistently. I expect to continue to climb or stay at least here.”
Cease struck out six, walked one and allowed three hits. It hasn’t been announced, but Cease, who was second in American League Cy Young Award voting last season, is the Sox’ likely Opening Day starter when they face the World Series champion Astros on March 30. He has never started an opener.
“It would be a big honor,” Cease said.
First baseman Andrew Vaughn played catch and took ground balls, and manager Pedro Grifol remained optimistic that Vaughn’s sore lower back will not be an issue as Opening Day approaches in less than two weeks.
“I have no concerns with him at all,” Grifol said. “He feels good.”
Vaughn is doing core work and said he might hit Monday.
“Just let it rest, build up the strength,” he said. “Be smart about it.”
Vaughn, who hasn’t played in seven days, was having a good spring offensively.
“I felt really good and was seeing the ball really well,” he said.
Grifol doesn’t believe the time away from game pitching will set him back.
“He’s in a good spot as long as he continues to improve and feel better, which he is,” Grifol said.
Spring and Bummer
Left-hander Aaron Bummer had a productive bullpen session Saturday and will throw one or two live batting practices before getting into a Cactus League game, the final step before he’s cleared to make the Opening Day roster.
Grifol received a good report on Bummer from pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“His velocity was good; his ball was moving all over the place,” Grifol said. “He commanded the ball. He’s in a good spot, too.”
Bummer is behind the other pitchers because his lat/shoulder wasn’t recovering as needed after his offseason throwing sessions.
“Right now we’re seeing how he responds to the next task and then make the plan from that,” Grifol said.
Jose Ruiz throwing 41⁄3 scoreless innings for Venezuela was something Grifol liked about the World Baseball Classic. Ruiz struck out Mike Trout and Tim Anderson on Saturday.
“I love the intensity and focus of his pitches, his demeanor, his ability to go back out for a second inning,” Grifol said. “Just his presence on the big stage has been really good. Sometimes it’s good to see stuff like that. He raised the bar, and that’s really good for me.”
On the other hand, having Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert (Cuba) and Anderson, Lance Lynn and Kendall Graveman (USA) going full tilt in March keeps him on the edge of his seat. Moncada left the game Sunday against the U.S. after colliding with the left fielder. The Sox said he suffered a bruised rib and is day-to-day.
Injuries to All-Stars Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve have been significant blows to their respective teams.
“I just want to see our guys get back here healthy,” Grifol said before Moncada left Sunday night’s game against Team USA with bruised ribs after a collision in short left field with Roel Santos.
The Sox said Moncada is day-to-day, but the injury did not appear to be serious.
Sox 6, Mariners 2
• Seby Zavala and Oscar Colas hit their third home runs of the spring, second on the team behind Jake Burger (four).
• Colas fouled a pitch from former Cubs farmhand Chris Clarke off his foot, hobbled around in discomfort, then hit an opposite-field homer.
• Mariners left-hander Robbie Ray struck out nine Sox in four innings. Elvis Andrus and Yasmani Grandal struck out three times each in the game.
• On deck: Diamondbacks at Sox, 3:05 p.m. Monday, Glendale, Bryce Jarvis vs. Franklin German.