It was a lot of fun to sit back and watch three of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects take the mound Tuesday night. They all, in their own unique way, showed why they are so highly thought of. At times, it seemed as though they were trying to outdo each other. While Dylan Cease pitched late, Oscar de la Cruz and Trevor Clifton looked they were going toe-to-toe for five innings. It was intense, not to mention highly entertaining, to flip back and forth and watch them go back and forth. On the night, the trio went 15.2 IP with 23 K’s and only one run allowed.[beautifulquote align=”left”]de la Cruz worked quickly and didn’t give the hitter time to think.[/beautifulquote]
South Bend’s Oscar de la Cruz was making his fifth start coming off of his shortest outing of the year in which he gave up six runs. He looked very good from the get-go, striking out the first batter before giving up a single and coaxing a double play to get out of the inning. This would be his theme for the night. There would always be a runner on, but de la Cruz worked quickly and didn’t give the hitter time to think. He pitched to contact but still managed to strike out six.
His most impressive moment of the night came in the 4th inning. After giving up two singles and walk, de la Cruz had the bases loaded with two outs, which brought pitching coach David Rosario out for a brief visit. Whatever Rosario said worked, as de la Cruz quickly went back to work and struck out the final batter of the inning. His ERA is back under 3.00 now and he has struck out 32 in just 22.2 IP at South Bend.[beautifulquote align=”left”]This was the most efficient I have ever seen Clifton.[/beautifulquote]
At the same time, 21-year-old righty Trevor Clifton looked like a beast for Myrtle Beach. A few weeks ago, he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning against Carolina, and Tuesday almost looked like a replay for the first three frames. Having watched Clifton closely for the past two years now, I can say this was the most efficient I have ever seen him. It was like watching a master class in pitching. He was pumping his 93/94 mph fastball where he wanted it to go, mixing in his curve and his changeup beautifully later in the game.
Clifton finally gave up a hit in the 4th, but never really ran into trouble, even when he loaded the bases with two outs in the 7th. For the night, Clifton went 6.2 IP and gave up 2 hits, 1 BB, and struck out 10 Mudcats. It was a dominating start. For the month of August, Clifton now has a 1.04 ERA, reminiscent of when he won the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Month award in May.
Next up was Dylan Cease, who followed the trend of looking good in the early going. After a couple innings, I sent a message to someone about the young fireballer’s night. It said:
Cease looking very fluid again tonight. Mainly FB/Curve in the first two innings. Sitting 98 Topping 100. Much more efficient tonight. 30 pitches through 2
It was actually 34 pitches. Still, the young man did look smooth. I know this is hyperbole, but Cease looked like he could slide right into the Cubs bullpen and pitch an inning tomorrow if needed. He looked that good. I should have kept my mouth shut, though. Over the next two innings, Cease struggled with his release point, an issue he has from time to time. He would only give up one run, but the control issues led to deep counts and it took him 44 pitches to get through those two frames.
For the most part, Cease looked great for the first two innings. In the 3rd and 4th, he looked like the guy we’ve been waiting to see put it all together. For the night, he managed 4 IP with 1 hit and 2 BB’s (which always do him in) and he struck out 7. It was impressive to watch. Speaking of impressive, his heater topped out at 100.9 mph.
The one common theme I noticed all night was these three phenoms did not waste any time between pitches. They got the ball, got the sign, and attacked the hitters. For the past three starts, the trio’s outings have been lining up on the same nights and it’s hard to know who to watch at times. On the other hand, I’m never disappointed no matter which game I choose. With just two and a half weeks left in the season, they only have 2 starts left apiece. If the trend continues, there’ll be more appointment viewing to come.