White Sox

What Nationals aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have to say about Lucas Giolito's turnaround


What Nationals aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have to say about Lucas Giolito's turnaround

The meteoric rise of Lucas Giolito this season has been straight out of NASA, a rocket boost for a pitcher whose once bright career almost became permanently grounded following his disastrous 2018 season.

The most earned runs in baseball. The second most walks. Giolito could have been forever scarred. But instead, the former “top pitching prospect in baseball” — who went home to Southern California saying, “I don’t want to be a loser anymore” — is now tied for the most wins in baseball.

How Giolito got to this point didn’t just start in the offseason when he shortened his delivery and rewired his overthinking pitching brain.

To fully grasp how far he’s come, you have to trace it back to his days with the Washington Nationals and the two pitchers who took him under their wings: Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

“It’s been fun to watch. He’s come a long way,” Strasburg said about Giolito in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He’s obviously made a big step and a big adjustment. I think that for anybody, there’s going to be times in the future where you’re going to have to do it again, but I think he’s also proven to himself that he can do that when it’s necessary, so I don’t see any reason why he can’t dominate for the next 10 to 15 years.”

I think White Sox fans will take that.

The 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick who had the "phenom" label placed on him just like Giolito, Strasburg could relate to the attention and heat that Giolito was feeling all around him.

“You’ve got to flush out all the noise. After being around for a while, you start to realize how the game is. It’s always going to be that way. There’s always going to be a new guy coming up that they’re going to say is going to win Cy Young after Cy Young. Some guys pan out, some guys don’t,” Strasburg explained.

When Dusty Baker was the Nationals' manager in 2016, he told the young Giolito to learn as much as he could from Scherzer, a Cy Young Award winner known for his tireless work ethic. One day before a game, Scherzer asked Giolito if he wanted to go for a run outside the stadium. Giolito wasn’t much of a runner, but this was Max Scherzer. How could he say no? It might have been better if he did. Scherzer had to keep slowing down along the way because Giolito couldn’t keep up with him.

The run proved to be symbolic for the young Nationals pitcher who dreamed of having a career like Scherzer's, but at that moment, he had a long way to go, not just on the pitcher’s mound, but in the strength and stamina department.

“He was a young kid who was 21 years old in the major leagues. That’s a daunting time, knowing where I was at as a baseball player when I was 21 years old,”  Scherzer said about Giolito.

The lesson Scherzer taught Giolito that day is what he continues to preach to young pitchers today.

“You have to get better. A lot of times we’ve been told how great we are. No one really comes up to you and tells you you have to get better. For me, I know that helped me when I was a younger player. I realized that I had to get better. That’s one of the things I always try to articulate to the next guys coming through, realizing how hard this league is, how hard it is to stay here and how much better you have to be,” Scherzer said.

This might be hard to believe for a pitcher who has now won three Cy Young Awards, but back in 2011, Scherzer believes he was where Giolito was last season.

“2011 was the worst year of my career. You have two bad years in this league and you’re gone. So for me, I had to get better. I had no choice,” said Scherzer, who had a career-high 4.43 ERA but still went 15-9 with the Detroit Tigers in 2011. “I just put my head down and just did everything I could to just go out there and make everything as consistent as possible.”

These were basically Giolito’s blueprints for renovating his career.

Playing in the National League, Scherzer has only seen highlights of Giolito here and there this season, but he immediately recognized the biggest change in the White Sox pitcher’s delivery and he’s a fan of it.

“I’ve just noticed that he’s shortened up his arm action. He’s got a much different arm path than when he was here with the Nationals. Typically, I’m a huge fan of guys who shorten up and have short arm actions. To me, that’s not surprising why he’s having success,” Scherzer said.

After winning American League Pitcher of the Month honors in May, Giolito has continued to dominate in June, throwing 15 scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. In his last seven starts, he’s 7-0 with a miniscule 0.88 ERA. What a turnaround for a pitcher who once was lost, but now has been found.

“Everybody needs a wake up call.  You can always push yourself more, you can always do more,” Scherzer said. “You can always train harder and find ways to train smarter and better. It never ends and that’s the best part, that it never ends.”

And the White Sox are hoping that this is only the beginning for Giolito.

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Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season


Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season

In the second inning Daniel Palka solidly lined a ball up the middle that looked like a sure hit off the bat. The problem? The Tigers defense was shifted perfectly to that spot for a lineout.

MLB Statcast gave Palka’s lineout an expected batting average of .650. It seemed like just another night like the rest of them have gone for Palka in the majors in 2019.

He entered Friday with a .034 batting average (2-for-59). After hitting 27 home runs with 45 extra base hits and a .778 OPS as a rookie in 2018, Palka hasn’t been able to do much of anything in a White Sox uniform.

That lineout appeared to be another “nothing can go right” moment. However, Palka’s Friday turned around.

His next time up, he pounded a ground ball that found a hole. Statcast gave that one a 31 percent chance of getting a hit, so he broke even after getting robbed earlier. The amusing thing is that Palka’s groundball single had an exit velocity of 108.9 mph, which was the second hardest hit ball of the game.

Palka later added a bloop single in the seventh and a line drive hit in the ninth to finish with a three hit day. Palka entered the day with two hits in 23 games and got three hits in Friday alone.

Even with the 3-for-5 night, Palka’s batting average is still only .072, but he more than doubled it in one game.

Is this relevant to the future of the White Sox? Almost certainly not, but Palka showed some promise in his rookie season and has been through an absolute nightmare this season. The mental side of going through his 0-for-32 start to the season and the continued struggles since could not have been easy. For at least one night in 2019 Palka had a good game at the plate.

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Dylan Cease has one of his best White Sox starts as part of a very good rebuild day


Dylan Cease has one of his best White Sox starts as part of a very good rebuild day

Dylan Cease’s rookie season has had plenty of growing pains, but Friday’s start against the Tigers may have been his best in the majors.

Yes, the Tigers have the worst record in baseball, but Cease will take them however he gets them at this point. The 23-year-old struck out eight while giving up one run in six innings in a 10-1 White Sox win.

Cease has now given up one run in each of his last three starts. That stat is a bit misleading, though, because he only lasted 3 1/3 innings on Sept. 8 against the Angels. In that game, Cease walked five and gave up four hits, but was able to limit the damage.

On Friday, Cease had a 1-2-3 first inning and pitched around a leadoff double in the second inning. A leadoff walk and two singles in the third inning led to the only run Cease allowed on the night.

In the final three innings Cease struck out five, didn’t allow any walks and gave up two hits. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 24 batters he faced, which is important for a pitcher who has struggled with his command this year both in Triple-A and the majors.

In four starts in September, Cease has a 3.00 ERA with 28 strikeouts, 12 walks and 16 hits allowed in 21 innings. He’s not consistently going deep into games yet and his command remains something to improve on, but that stretch is definitely something to build on for Cease.

His overall numbers (5.79 ERA, 81 strikeouts, 35 walks, 78 hits, 15 home runs in 73 innings) leave a lot to be desired, but the White Sox didn’t need (and probably didn’t expect) Cease to dominate as a rookie. This isn’t a contending White Sox team. However, the hope for next year is that the team will start to approach that status. Having Cease show signs of growth and progress late in 2019 so he can be closer to the standout pitcher they believe he can be in 2020 is important.

As 2019 winds down and thoughts of 2020 become more prominent for the White Sox front office and fan base, games like Friday are what everyone will be expecting to see on a regular basis. Cease racking up strikeouts with a quality start and the offense being led by Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. Jimenez had a grand slam and finished a double shy of a cycle, Moncada reached base three times and homered and Anderson had two more hits to take another step toward the AL batting title.

Sure, it's just the Tigers, but this game was a blueprint for what White Sox wins in the future are expected to be built around.

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