For the casual fan, home runs by Carlos Martinez and Dexter Fowler ultimately spoiled an otherwise stellar start from White Sox starter Lucas Giolito on Wednesday afternoon.
After a disastrous first month of the season, Giolito was precise, efficient and had his swing-and-miss stuff against the St. Louis Cardinals. His arm was alive in by far his warmest start to date. He wound up exiting after 6.1 innings, giving up 4 hits, walking 2 and striking out 7 while giving up 3 earned runs.
Up until Martinez ran into a Giolito fastball with two outs in the sixth inning, he had allowed just a single hit and hadn’t walked anybody in just 61 pitches. The final stat line ultimately suffered thanks to those two home runs, but the ancillary numbers tell the larger story for Giolito.
He threw just 87 pitches and worked ahead in the count all day, going full just once and throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 25 batters faced. He generated 15 swinging strikes with those 87 pitches, which was by far the most of his entire season and the second-most of his 17 career starts.
Giolito confidently threw secondary pitches in any count and located his fastball with precision. That four-seamer sat comfortably at 91-93 MPH and, generally, Giolito was closer to what we saw last fall and earlier this spring than what he was most of April.
Now, he’s put together decent starts in each of his last two outings. It appears Chicago’s patience is being rewarded after some fans clamored for Giolito to be sent back to Triple-A to work on his issues.
The White Sox have been very good this season at understanding where they’re at in their rebuild. Sure, they were branded as the team that never quits and lip service was paid to the idea that they could be sneaky third-place finishers in the AL Central.
But what was actually key was allowing their talented young players to find themselves in (and work themselves out of) difficult situations. So sending Giolito down when things got hard would’ve flown in the face of everything they’re trying to accomplish.
Plus, weather and an uneven schedule were almost certainly factors in his issues. His first four starts all came in temperatures of 53 degrees or lower, and he had seven- and nine-day layoffs during that span.
Of course, he won’t always have the luxury of that excuse for long. Aprils can be cold in Chicago and the rest of the AL Central. If the White Sox are going to realize their full potential and make regular appearances in October, it’ll be cold then too. Giolito will have to learn how to pitch through that, but you can give him a partial pass in his first go-round.
What was more concerning was his command, which was always the greatest area of concern with Giolito as he rose through the ranks as a top prospect. He appeared to have many of those issues licked late last season and in the spring, but things were as bad as ever early.
That’s what makes starts like Wednesday’s so important, even in a loss. He hit spots with all five of his offerings and showed a willingness to pitch backward to even the most dangerous Cardinals hitters.
Take a look at the at-bat in the fourth inning against Tommy Pham. Giolito spun up back-to-back curveballs to jump ahead 0-2 before painting a four-seamer that had to be fouled away.
Then, he dipped a slider off the plate that was tough for Pham to lay off before throwing another four-seamer at the knees on the inside edge that should’ve been called strike three. But Giolito seemed to pay no mind to the clear missed call and responded with arguably his best slider of the day down and away to generate a swinging strikeout.
It wasn’t a perfect day by any means. The third time through the order clearly gave Giolito problems, and both home runs came on belt-high fastballs that simply didn’t get in enough.
As a guy who the White Sox expect to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, they’ll want to keep a close eye on his success that third trip through the lineup because he’ll be exposed to a lot of those situations when working deep into games. Still, the positives that can be taken away from this start vastly outweigh the negatives.
And while it’s a little too early to say he’s passed all his struggles, he’s starting to string together starts that are more in line with what they believe he can be. That’s essentially all the organization is looking for from all of their younger players in 2018.