Command The Key For Lucas Giolito

DURHAM, N.C.—Some evaluators are focused on Lucas Giolito’s velocity drop as the root of his problems.

The White Sox’s No. 2 prospect used to sit 94-96 mph and touch 100 with his fastball, but now operates at 90-94 mph.

That velocity change isn’t the focus of Giolito and the coaching staff at Triple-A Charlotte, however. It’s his command they are aiming to improve to get him back to the majors.

“Velocity is not his main concern,” Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He knows he has to make improvements on throwing his curveball for strikes, he’s getting better with his changeup, we added (a slider), so he’s making strides. Sometimes it doesn’t look great, but so far I like what I’m seeing and the direction he’s going.”

Giolito showed improved command in spurts but overall struggled in his second start of the season, lasting four innings and taking the loss in a 6-0 defeat to Durham (Rays) on Thursday evening.

Giolito gave up three hits and three runs, walked four and struck out four. He threw only 43 of his 90 pitches for strikes and saw his fastball get rocked multiple times, including on an RBI triple by Casey Gillaspie in the first inning and a long home run by Mike Marjama in the fifth.

“I didn’t throw the ball well at all,” Giolito said. “A lot of pitches got away from me. I didn’t have good command of the fastball and didn’t really have solid command of my curveball either. So I was basically throwing a lot of fastballs, changeups, but falling behind too many batters. Good hitters are going to put good swings on it when you fall behind 2-0, 3-0, 2-1.”

Command ailed Giolito as much as velocity when he got his first call to the majors last season. The 22-year-old righthander walked 12 in 21.1 innings with the Nationals in his first taste of the big leagues. More specifically, his inability to spot his fastball cost him dearly. Opponents hit .349 with a .730 slugging percentage against Giolito’s fastball.

In response, Giolito has worked with White Sox coaches extensively on locating his fastball since coming over in the blockbuster Adam Eaton trade last winter, seeing that as the key to success more than any major velocity or mechanical changes.

“We’re just working on the finish and the direction, basic things like that,” McCatty said. “Get him comfortable with himself and trusting himself and letting him go out there.”

Added Giolito: “My main thing is just using my legs better when I’m pitching, be able to drive off the mound and kind of drive the ball home as opposed to flying open which is what I’m doing a lot.

“I’m doing a lot of towel drills to make sure that I’m using my legs to drive forward and then stay on line to throw downhill with good plane. There’s a lot of work to be done, definitely.”

The early results bear that out. Giolito has given up nine hits and seven earned runs, walked six and hit three batters in 8.1 innings with Charlotte, his first two starts in the White Sox organization.

His fastball sat 93-94 mph before dropping to 90-92 in the middle innings Thursday. He rounded out his arsenal with an 82-86 mph slider, 78-83 mph changeup and looping 75-79 mph curveball.

The radar gun readings are secondary at this point, however. Right now, it’s all about command for Giolito.

“There’s a lot of adjustments to be made, to work on, and that’s why I’m here,” Giolito said. “To work on them and hopefully be better the next time out.”


NEWS AND NOTES

• Durham righthander Taylor Guerrieri, the Rays No. 17 prospect, walked off the mound with a trainer in the fourth inning. The team announced he had a “right elbow injury” after the game and said he would undergo further tests. Prior to leaving Guerrieri sat 92-93 mph with his four-seam fastball while mixing in a darting 91 mph cutter as his swing-and-miss pitch. He gave up two hits and struck out five in 3.2 scoreless innings.

• Gillaspie, the Rays No. 4 prospect, went 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs. He has reached base in six of his seven games this season.

• Durham catcher Marjama has homered in three straight games, all against the organization that originally drafted him. The White Sox picked Marjama in the 23rd round in 2011 out of Long Beach State and sold him to the Rays in January 2015.

• Charlotte righthander Zack Burdi, the White Sox’s No. 6 prospect, pitched the eighth and sat 98-100 mph with his fastball. He retired the side in order and struck out one.

• White Sox No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and Rays No. 1 prospect Willy Adames went 0-for-5 with a strikeout.

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