Three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings of work is, on the surface, nothing to get overly excited about. But Lucas Giolito on Wednesday looked every bit the part of the pitcher the White Sox remain high on for the majority of his outing in a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals, putting together easily his best start of the season. So what was the difference this time around compared to his previous five starts?
It always seems overly simplistic to say that a key to a pitcher’s success is to throw strikes and to throw strikes early in the count. That’s the kind of thing players and coaches say in postgame interviews, and it’s always more complicated than that. In Giolito’s case, it is, but the whole strike-throwing thing or lack thereof was a big part of his struggles early in the season as well as his success on Wednesday. Through five starts, Giolito threw a first-pitch strike just 45 percent of the time (the league average is 59 percent). Wednesday, he upped that to 71 percent (17-of-24), including a first-pitch strike to 10 of the first 11 batters he faced.
Getting ahead, particularly with the fastball, is so important for Giolito. His velocity sat 91-94 throughout Wednesday’s start, which is in line with what we’ve seen this season. I don’t know if we’re going to see the kind of velocity we displayed in Spring Training, but if this is where his fastball is going to be going forward, he proved he can still find success. Using it to get ahead and not allowing Cardinals hitters to square anything up gave Giolito to unleash his breaking balls, which he showed can still be devastating when he has all his toys working. Giolito earned his top prospect pedigree not all that long ago, in part, because of his plus-plus curveball. On Wednesday, though, it was his slider — something he added to his arsenal just last year — that gave hitters fits. He threw it 21 times on the day and induced eight whiffs, per Brooks Baseball. Of his season-high seven strikeouts, five ended on a slider, all of the swinging variety.
Through five innings, Giolito matched Cardinals’ ace Carlos Martinez pitch-for-pitch, throwing up zeros just the same as his counterpart. But the sixth and seventh innings showed just how razor-thin his margin for error can be. Martinez, who had just six extra-base hits and zero home runs in 225 career plate appearances coming in, took a first-pitch fastball (hey, at least it was a strike!) from Giolito out to break a scoreless tie. From that point on, his command wavered. He walked the next two batters (including Matt Carpenter on four pitches), and his day ended the next inning when he grooved a fastball that Dexter Fowler took out for a two-run homer.
Finding both consistency from start-to-start as well as within a start are going to be an important factor in Giolito becoming an integral part of the rotation as opposed to an erratic and frustratingly inconsistent one. Wednesday was just one start, and the results were merely adequate if not overwhelmingly positive. Still, it was a solid step in him righting the ship after a forgettable April.
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