Lucas Giolito is sick of losing, which for the White Sox pitcher who took a notorious amount of lumps last season is actually an understatement.
“I’m really sick of losing,” Giolito said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I went into the offseason personally like, ‘I don’t want to be a loser anymore. It’s time to figure it out and find ways to win.’”
In 2018, no pitcher in the majors received a harsher beating on the mound than Giolito. He gave up more runs (118) and walked more batters (90) than anyone in the American League. His 6.13 ERA and 1.48 WHIP were both the highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. The player once considered “the top pitching prospect in baseball” was on the road to becoming one of the game’s biggest busts unless he made some changes.
How much did he want to fix himself?
“Pretty much more than anything,” Giolito said. “I went into the offseason with this new hunger. I never want to feel like that on a baseball field again.”
Like the time he gave up nine runs on five hits and seven walks in just two innings last April against the Houston Astros.
“Those ones that blew up in my face in the first or second inning, it’s like, ‘What’s going on? Why am I allowing this to happen when I’ve been throwing a baseball for most of my life?'”
Pitching is all about control. But Giolito had almost no control when the ball came out of his hand.
“Bringing the walks down, that was the No. 1 thing. I walked a ridiculous amount of batters last year. To the point where it was like, ‘What are you doing, man?’”
So as fall turned to winter, Giolito went home to Southern California, looked in the mirror and bore down like he never had before.
“It wasn’t one of those offseasons where It’s like, 'I’m going to work really hard in the gym and continue to do what I’ve been doing to prepare myself,' because it wasn’t working. It hasn’t worked for a couple years now,” Giolito explained. “I had to go in with a new mindset, to figure things out, to really, really reconstruct some things. I worked really hard at it and now I’m starting to see a little bit of the results here early, but there’s still a lot more work to be done.”
Among the many changes that Giolito made, he shortened his delivery, key for a pitcher who stands 6-foot-6 and has arms like telephone poles. The cleaner delivery has added velocity and life to his fastball and also allows him to be more consistent with his pitches.
“The biggest thing is the consistency to get to my release point, being in the right firing position and be able to get over the ball more and more instead of flying open and having big misses.”
He also needed to cut down on stolen bases. Oh, did he. Teams were swiping bags at will against him.
“Every time a guy would get on first, he was pretty much standing on second,” Giolito admitted. “I was slow to the plate, I wasn’t varying my times, I wasn’t varying my looks. I would get into that snowball. You could call it a rhythm, but it was an anti-rhythm. Everyone on the bases was a carousel.”
He and pitching coach Don Cooper worked together in spring training, adding a slide step to Giolito’s delivery to get him quicker to the plate. After giving up 26 stolen bases last season, Giolito has allowed only one so far in 38 innings in 2019.
While White Sox coaches have certainly played a role in helping Giolito turn his career around, he also received some unexpected help from a certain Hall of Famer by the name of Frank Thomas.
The two of them were on the stage at an event for White Sox Charities in April when the South Side legend gave Giolito some surprising, yet necessary advice.
“I was standing right in front of Frank. He was behind me. He leans in and said, ‘You need to pitch inside more.’ I’m like, ‘I know, I know.’ He’s like, ‘For real. You need to pitch inside more,’” Giolito recalled.
One of the most feared hitters in baseball during his iconic career, The Big Hurt happens to have a big heart when it comes to helping current players with their craft. Thomas knows how throwing inside can make for an uncomfortable at-bat, even for a player like him.
Giolito got the message.
“My next start, I go to (James) McCann, and I’m like, ‘James, we need to pitch inside more. Let’s go. Righties, lefties, we got to get in there. You get a piece of advice from someone like Frank Thomas, that’s not something you let go through one ear and out the other. I took that to heart,” Giolito said.
In his last two starts, Giolito’s inside approach was on display against two of the top hitters he faced. First, in Cleveland, after giving up a single to Francisco Lindor in his first at-bat, Giolito delivered some chin music high and tight in Lindor’s next at-bat. The Indians All Star ended up striking out. Then in Toronto against Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 20-year-old phenom made hard contact in his first two appearances against Giolito with a double and a deep flyout to center. The next time Guerrero came to the plate, Giolito set him up by throwing inside. He eventually struck him out swinging.
“I’ve always viewed pitching inside as very important, especially for a starting pitcher who throws a lot of fastballs, but to have that reiterated by a legend, by someone who played here, made a lot of memories for a lot of people, knows the game a lot better than I do at this point, I think the message rang true,” Giolito said about Thomas.
Now, opponents around the league are getting the memo about Giolito, who has been a totally different pitcher in the first six weeks of the season.
Lucas Giolito first 7 starts.— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) May 12, 2019
2018: 1-4, 7.25 ERA, 25 BB, 21 K
2019: 4-1, 3.55 ERA, 16 BB, 46 K
Seeing Giolito struggle like he did in 2018 was painful to watch, but looking back, it could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to him in his career.
“I learned from every single thing. Every single good thing I did. If I was able to bear down and make adjustments in the middle of an inning, which didn’t happen very often last year, I learned from those situations when I did something that worked out,” he said. “But I learned a lot from the failures, and there were a lot of failures. Every single one made me hungrier and hungrier to figure it out and make me better.”
This year, Giolito is better. Much better. And that queasy feeling he’s had about losing is starting to subside. There’s still a lot of baseball remaining here in 2019, but after watching what the lanky right-hander has done so far, White Sox fans should hope for this: that the new and improved Lucas Giolito is here to stay.