White Sox

How Lucas Giolito overcame an inconsistent fastball and thrived against Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lucas Giolito didn’t have his best stuff on Wednesday and he thrived anyway. Catcher Kevan Smith thinks it has a lot to do with the pitcher’s large frame and the movement on his pitches.

The 6-foot-6 Giolito had poor fastball command early, only induced a few swings and misses and put six runners on base in the first three innings. But that didn’t prevent him from success. The White Sox rookie induced a boatload of weak contact over 6 1/3 strong innings to help send the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

“His stuff is moving,” Smith said. “Guys get in the box joking, ‘This guy is 7-foot-5, how am I supposed to hit?’ It’s funny when guys have that perspective with him. It’s fun seeing a pitch that he didn’t hit his spot but guys pop it up. It’s like, ‘All right, something is moving there,’ especially with the caliber of hitters on that side.”

It was evident in the first inning Giolito didn’t have crisp command. He walked two and gave up a single and only escaped with the helped of a botched double steal and a leaping grab by shortstop Tim Anderson.

Giolito’s fastball command issues carried into the third inning when he hit one batter and walked another. But the White Sox rookie needed only four pitches to rebound as Eric Hosmer struck out and Salvador Perez grounded into a force out.

“It was one of those battle days,” Giolito said. “Right out of the gate walking the first batter, two in the first inning. I definitely felt a little out of sync in the beginning.

“But once it got to situations with runners on base and less than two outs, especially, that’s when I really tried to slow the game down to my pace and make quality pitches. We were able to do that.”

The quality pitches early were critical. Consider that Giolito’s fastball averaged 91.6 mph (down from his 92.5 mph average) and he only induced six swings and misses. He also threw strikes on only 58 percent of his pitches (54 of 93).

But the Royals couldn’t take advantage.

“Gio did a nice job of just working through the game today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He got deep. His ball-to-strike ration wasn’t as effective. This outing might have been similar to his last outing in terms of strike effectiveness. But he kept working through it, got some big outs when he needed to and made some pitches when he needed to.”

Giolito finished with a run and four hits allowed in 6 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out three. The strikeout total was significantly down from a Sept. 3 outing when Giolito struck out 10 hitters against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Giolito -- who has a 2.56 ERA in 31 2/3 innings in the majors -- suggested that the low strikeout total was because of poor fastball command. But he showed once again he isn’t afraid to pitch around an inconsistent fastball and the Royals struggled to hit what Giolito had. They produced an average exit velocity of only 73.9 mph on the balls they put in play, which resulted in a lot of easy outs.

“I think it depends on the stuff I’m bringing that day, especially commanding the fastball,” Giolito said. “I feel like I missed out on a lot of strikeouts today just not commanding the fastball and not getting ahead of guys as well as I would have liked.

“I’ll take early, weak contact over strikeouts any time just because as a starting pitcher it means you can throw more pitches, throw deeper into the game.”

Smith thinks Giolito can induce weak contact because of his height. Because Giolito is tall, he throws from a different, deceiving angle. That natural ability gives the 22-year-old a chance on days when his fastball isn’t popping like it can.

Only Perez did damage against Giolito with a solo homer in the sixth inning off a 91-mph fastball.

“The big thing for him is angle,” Smith said. “When he gets that he’s almost unhittable. He got burned on that one pitch there. But he did a great job getting through that first inning, dealing with those ups and down.

“Overall a solid outing.”