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Posted at 02:19 PM ET, 06/05/2012

Lucas Giolito says elbow injury is ‘behind me,’ calls UCLA a ‘big option’

The Nationals understood they took a risk by drafting Lucas Giolito, the supremely talented high school right-hander who this spring sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Rather than play for Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, Calif., Giolito rehabbed from the injury.

For Giolito, though, the risk is non-existent. During a conference call with Washington reporters in which he sounded polished beyond his 17 years, Giolito echoed Nationals officials in expressing no concern about his elbow.

“I’m confident that this issue is behind me,” Giolito said.

Giolito said he has been treated by “some of the best doctors around” at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles, the same place where Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann underwent Tommy John surgery. He has been throwing long toss from as far as 300 feet, and he has been throwing hard fastball off flat ground from 60 feet.

He said he had been assured his UCL strain would most likely not lead to Tommy John surgery, about which, “I was 100 percent relieved.” He is nearing the point in his rehab where he can pitch off the mound, and the time away from pitching has allowed him to strengthen secondary muscles in his back, arm and core.

“I’ve been tackling it with a lot of confidence, and I’m feeling really good about it,” Giolito said.

The health concern moved Giolito down draft boards, from a potential first overall pick at the start of the year to a question mark.

“I had no idea where I was going off the board,” Giolito said. “I was sitting there and I was surrounded by my close family. It was a huge surprise to get taken by such a great organization. It kind of struck me. I was kind of speechless. It was an awesome moment.”

Giolito said he has heard little from the Nationals other than a congratulatory call from General Manager Mike Rizzo last night. “That was really cool,” Giolito said.

The sides will be speaking more in the near future as the Nationals try to sign Giolito. His upside will command a significant signing bonus, surely larger than the $2.125 million recommended by Major League Baseball. Giolito is committed to UCLA, which offers him leverage in the negotiations.

“Obviously, I picked UCLA for a reason,” Giolito said. It’s one of the best baseball programs in all of college baseball. UCLA is still a really big option for me. We’ll see how everything plays out.”

Giolito’s comments stuck perfectly to the script for a highly regarded high school player. While the negotiations will likely be protracted, Rizzo’s history and aversion to not signing draft picks makes it near certain Giolito will ultimately sign.

If so, the Nationals will get a player capable, when healthy, of throwing 100 miles per hour and with 12-to-6 curve. Giolito said he emulates Strasburg and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander.

“I like to pitch with a lot of confidence,” Giolito said. “I like to pitch with being determined to go after the batter. I like to throw my fastball inside and bust people in, and maybe come back with my curveball.”

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