Dylan Cease makes Coors Field history; Robert Suarez finally throws a secondary pitch

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DENVER — Monday night, Dylan Cease bordered on perfection where it often seems unattainable. The San Diego Padres right-hander became the first pitcher in Coors Field’s nearly three decades of existence to complete at least seven innings, issue zero walks and allow no more than one hit. As Cease retired 21 of the 22 batters he faced, the absence of free passes felt particularly notable: Even in the mile-high venue’s lone no-hitter, in 1996, Hideo Nomo walked four batters.

Against the lowly 2024 Colorado Rockies, Cease resembled the prototype of a modern-day ace. He touched 98 mph with his high-spin fastball, threw more sliders than heaters, mixed in a dozen cutters and sweepers, and induced 17 whiffs on 90 pitches. After the final pitch, a trio of two-out hits in the top of the eighth helped make him a most deserving winner in a 3-1 victory for San Diego.

“That’s the thing right there with Dylan,” said utilityman Tyler Wade, whose pinch hit RBI single broke a 1-1 tie. “He pitched his ass off tonight.”

Five starts in, Cease has thoroughly impressed a Padres team that pursued the former Chicago White Sox ace all offseason before landing him in a mid-March blockbuster.

Cease, 28, has pitched to a 1.82 ERA despite limited Cactus League time and a hastily arranged, cross-Pacific flight that essentially served as his entrance into the organization. He has debuted as San Diego’s hardest-throwing starter since Dinelson Lamet while demonstrating an array of swing-and-miss secondary pitches. He has supplied four consecutive outings of at least six innings, two or fewer earned runs allowed and seven or more strikeouts.

Then there is this: Cease has worked the equivalent of 17 innings against right-handed batters and allowed them only one hit. It has not felt like unusual good fortune, at least for Cease.

“I think every squirrel,” catcher Luis Campusano said, “can find a nut.”

“I’m very thankful that we acquired him through the trade,” center fielder Jackson Merrill said. “You know, lost some friends through that, but it’s so worth it. He’s disgusting.”

“He throws some sliders that are just late and just, like, ‘Whoa,’” manager Mike Shildt said.

Cease’s arrival has buoyed a rotation that features multiple question marks. The Padres last week lost Opening Day starter Yu Darvish to what the club believes is a relatively minor neck tightness. Another veteran right-hander, Joe Musgrove, is coming back this season from a shoulder capsule injury and could be challenged to regain his form as a frontline pitcher. Another newcomer, Michael King, is attempting to establish himself as a full-time starter.

The runner-up for the 2022 American League Cy Young Award, Cease is resembling a worthy, right-handed replacement for 2023 National League Cy Young winner Blake Snell. So far, too, he has shown plenty of adaptability. His cutter and sweeper are both new additions to his repertoire. After pitching at Coors Field for the first time last summer — Cease surrendered four runs in 4 2/3 innings — he entered Monday’s start aware he should readjust his targets on certain pitches.

“It’s tough because the heater doesn’t ride quite as well,” said Cease, who ceded his lone hit, a Charlie Blackmon double, on a fastball. “There’s some different stuff where I guess if you let that get in your mind, it can be a disadvantage. But I always kind of have the mindset that whatever I have, I’m just gonna attack.”

Cease did that throughout Monday’s outing. And, though he made Coors Field history, another attack-minded Padres pitcher closed the book on something of an era. In the bottom of the ninth, closer Robert Suarez threw a 1-2 changeup that Sean Bouchard fouled off.

It was Suarez’s first secondary pitch after a remarkable, six-appearance string of 69 consecutive fastballs. In that span, Suarez had allowed no runs and two hits while throwing 65 four-seam fastballs and four sinkers.

“I’ve been able to dominate with that pitch, and as long as I can keep putting that same domination towards batters using that fastball, I’ll just continue to use it,” Suarez said through interpreter Pedro Gutiérrez before Monday’s game.

From last season to this season, pitching coach Ruben Niebla pointed out, Suarez’s four-seamer has gained more than an inch of vertical break (also known as “ride”) and, on average, almost a full mile per hour. Suarez has credited Niebla with helping him improve the metrics on the pitch. Both men have insisted that Suarez continues to work on his secondary pitches daily and that there will be a time to resume regular usage of those offerings.

Monday, after Cease’s show of force and a scoreless setup inning by Enyel De Los Santos, was one of those times. Suarez threw 11 fastballs and four changeups, including two to Blackmon, who wound up flying out against a four-seamer.

“We knew that Blackmon is very aggressive with runners in scoring position and showing him something soft (to) kind of get off that heater and kind of going back, it’s a different look that he can see,” Campusano said. “We’re not going to just 0-0 fastballs for anyone to ambush. We’re coming into the game prepared, knowing what’s going to happen, and (Suarez) is trying to execute.”

(Photo of Dylan Cease: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

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