Lucas Giolito was the No. 11 prospect in baseball when the White Sox acquired him in an offseason trade with the Washington Nationals, and you’d think bringing in such a highly rated pitching prospect would generate feverish excitement.
But Giolito hasn’t been talked about with the same rosy optimism as some of the other cornerstones of the White Sox rebuild.
That can be credited to performance, of course, as a short stint in the bigs at the end of last season went poorly, with Giolito posting a 6.75 ERA in six games (four starts) for the Nationals. The beginning of this season didn’t start so hot, either, with Giolito’s ERA sitting at 5.40 through his first 16 starts at Triple-A Charlotte.
He dropped from the No. 11 prospect in baseball at the beginning of the season to the No. 59 prospect in the game at midseason.
That had some White Sox fans leaving him out of the team’s 2020 starting rotation, with minor league stars like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez earning those far-off spots in the minds of daydreaming wannabe general managers.
But Giolito might be working his way back into those rotation projections with what he’s done in his first two starts with the big league White Sox. The first, coming earlier this week against the Minnesota Twins, wasn’t anything to scream about. He allowed four runs in six innings. But Sunday he spun a gem, shutting out the visiting Detroit Tigers over his seven innings of work during the White Sox 7-1 win.
Giolito allowed just three hits and no runs — helped out by umpires getting a call right when they changed Jose Igelsias’ seventh-inning grand slam to a foul ball.
“He used his breaking ball more effectively for strikes, threw first-pitch strikes, used his changeup very well, his fastball was still good,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously, he didn’t get into any trouble until the last inning of work, which he was able to finish Iglesias to get the final out. I thought he looked just the same today, he just didn’t get any balls out over the plate that they could get to.”
“We did a good job of filling up the strike zone with honestly all four of my pitches,” Giolito said. “For the most part, throwing the slider pretty well. It was actually a pretty good swing-and-miss pitch at times. It was one of those days where I was able to get all four of my pitches working for a strike and then being able to throw that good one down when I needed it. It all worked together.”
It’s a continuation of him getting things righted at the minor league level. After those first 16 starts yielded unwanted results, Giolito posted a 2.78 ERA over his last eight starts at Charlotte before getting the call to the majors. Sunday was his best effort yet, shutting down a big league lineup for more than three quarters of a game.
It was his first big league victory. An improvement over his first outing with the team, yes, but an even bigger improvement since last year and over the course of this season.
“It’s a huge relief,” he said. “Last year didn’t go the way I wanted it to. And now I get the opportunity back up here again, I just want to take that opportunity and do everything I can to take advantage of it. I’m very happy I was able to get the first ‘W,’ and I’m looking forward to more.”
As mentioned, Giolito had himself a big league moment Sunday. After recording the first two outs of the top of the seventh inning, he loaded the bases, walking two of those three batters. Renteria visited the mound and opted to leave his young pitcher in the game. The next pitch was blasted down the left-field line and initially ruled a grand slam off Iglesias’ bat. But an umpire conference overturned the call. Giolito induced a grounder to end the inning and keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.
“When Ricky came out there, he said, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’ I said, ‘I’m good, ready to go.’ I really appreciate that I got that opportunity to finish that inning right there, and luckily we were able to get the groundball and get out of it,” he said. “It’s good. I felt confident, and luckily it worked out.”
There’s still a long time before the White Sox rebuild reaches its apex and the team is assembling a rotation for a contending club. But thanks to Rick Hahn’s efforts in loading the organization’s farm system, the White Sox hope to have plenty of arms to choose from.
Giolito should be one of those candidates, and it’s up to him to show he’s still the pitcher that earned such a high rating before the season began.
“The name of the game is consistency, so I’ve got to see him more and more,” Renteria said. “Obviously, he just got here. I still think he previous outing was good, obviously this outing was good, the outcome was a little different. … I think what we’re looking for him to do is do what he did today. Continually attack the zone, continue to mix in his pitches the way he did, effectively for strikes when he needs to, just continue to eat up innings and outs.”
“Just (want to show) the fact I’m going to go out there and compete every five days. When I take the mound, I want to give the team a really good chance to win the game. So that means going out there, getting Strike 1, getting ahead of guys, filling up the strike zone and putting up zeroes on the board,” Giolito said. “Happy we were able to do that today, going to build off of that and continue to work on it.”