The Nationals were off an Tuesday, but minor league camp was still in full swing. There were three intrasquad games in the morning, including Class AAA Syracuse playing Class AA Harrisburg, a matchup that featured many of the Nationals top prospects. Hanging on the bleachers behind home plate and watching the game was the Nationals’ top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, last year’s first-round pick.
Giolito, 18, is rehabbing from elbow ligament replacement Tommy John surgery he underwent last August. He was in good spirits, exciting to be throwing again and building up his arm strength so he can climb back onto a mound soon. He picked up a baseball to throw for the first time since surgery on Feb. 6. And in two-week increments, he throws at a greater distance. He is playing catch at 120 feet every other day now, soon jumping to 150 feet.
Already, he said, he has noticed a difference from before. Giolito strained his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during the spring of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. Both the Nationals and Giolito agreed to continue rehabbing the injury after he signed for $2.925 million following his 16th overall selection in last year’s draft. But in his first professional baseball game on Aug. 14, Giolito was pulled because he experienced soreness in his elbow after throwing two innings in a Gulf Coast League outing. Even though he’s not throwing at maximum effort or on a mount yet, Giolito said that feeling is now gone.
“It definitely feels very good and very strong,” he said. “There’s no more feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m gonna throw but I don’t know how it’s going to feel.’ It’s totally gone. It was like that after the initial injury. Now it’s no holds barred, getting after it.”
The plan for Giolito is for the big right-hander to get back onto a mound in May to throw bullpen sessions. Barring any setbacks, he should then appear in extended spring training and even in the GCL later in the season. He is still likely years away from reaching the majors, especially considering his elbow surgery.
So far, Giolito has found his first minor league spring training helpful. Rehab from major injuries can be lonely, but being around other players in the same position has been encouraging and reassuring.
“Being able to be here and see a bunch of other guys who have all sorts of different arm injuries and with them rehabbing and I’ll be in extended [spring training] with some of them, and being able to pick their brain,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh, how do you go about your rehab. How did it feel going through it?’ It’s really good to have that as I’m moving forward and compare. ‘Oh maybe this how my arm felt this day. That guy when through the same thing so it’s nothing to worry about.’ So it’s good to have that.”
Giolito said that when he was younger a doctor told him he would hit 6-foot-8. He is still 6-foot-6 and thinks he’s done growing after his big growth spurt in high school. During the rehab, however, he worked out a lot and added muscle. He said he is up to 250 pounds, which looks leans on his tall frame.
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The Nationals make the long trip to Jupiter to face the Marlins, and the entire time minus Roger Bernadina and a few pitchers were on the schedule to travel. Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche have yet to play a road game this season. The lineup isn’t available yet but it’s likely the standard one when all the starters are available. Chris Young is scheduled to start.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY