The Nationals avoided Lucas Giolito’s turn in the rotation during the White Sox’s two-game visit to Nationals Park last week and again during the teams’ two-game set in Chicago scheduled to end Tuesday. Lucky them, as Giolito, Washington’s first round draft pick in 2012, has developed into one of the game’s best starters with the White Sox.
Giolito is 9-1 with a 2.28 ERA, which ranks third in the American League. The AL’s reigning pitcher of the month has 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 75 innings and has allowed five earned runs in his last seven starts combined. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the 24-year-old, who last season had the worst ERA (6.13) among qualified starters in all of baseball.
The Nationals drafted Giolito 16th overall out of high school in 2012, with the expectation that he might need Tommy John surgery. The gamble paid off, as Giolito quickly worked his way through Washington’s minor league system after recovering from the procedure. Before the 2016 season, MLB.com and Baseball America ranked him as the best pitching prospect in the Nationals’ system and the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game. A former GM described Giolito’s curveball in spring training that year as “bowel-locking.”
Giolito made his major league debut in June 2016. In six appearances, including four starts, that season, he posted a 6.75 ERA, 12 walks and 11 strikeouts in 21 ⅓ innings. In December 2016, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo traded Giolito and fellow pitching prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton and his team-friendly contract.
While ankle and knee injuries limited Eaton to 118 games over the last two full seasons, Rizzo, a Chicago native, said he has “no mixed feelings at all” about Giolito’s success, and he hopes All-Star Games and Cy Young awards are in his future.
“He’s pitching outstanding," Rizzo said Tuesday on the Mully & Haugh Show on Chicago’s 670 The Score. “I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a tip of the cap to the White Sox’ scouting department, it’s a tip of the cap to our scouting department that recognized him early and drafted him. We’re looking forward to him having a long, illustrious career except for when he pitches against us.”
Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg told NBC Sports Chicago’s “White Sox Talk” podcast this week that Giolito’s progress has been “fun to watch." Both Strasburg and Max Scherzer have noticed changes to Giolito’s mechanics this year from the highlights they’ve seen.
“He’s shortened up his arm action, he’s got a much different arm path than when he was here with the Nationals," Scherzer told NBC Sports Chicago. “Typically I’m a huge fan of guys that shorten up and have short arm action, so to me, that’s not surprising why he’s having success.”
Strasburg suggested Giolito could be set up for success for years to come.
“This game’s all about adjustments," Strasburg said. "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 when you’re going to have to do it again. I think he’s also proven to himself that he can do that when it’s necessary. I don’t see any reason why he can’t dominate for the next 10, 15 years.”
Fortunately for the Nationals, they probably won’t have to face Giolito for another three years.
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