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Lucas Giolito holds his own without breaking stuff

White Sox debut successful enough considering he had only a fastball and changeup

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Back in spring training, rebuilding a delivery was Job One for Lucas Giolito, and the untrained eye couldn’t follow that from a distance.

The first results-based goal one could track tangibly? Throwing breaking balls for strikes. The White Sox and Giolito wanted to make hitters respect his curveball before a putaway situation, and they added a slider to his arsenal for easier strike-throwing as well.

Regarding the latter aspect, it’s back to Square One if you only saw the way he threw on Tuesday.

Over his six innings during the White Sox’ 4-1 loss to Minnesota, Brooks Baseball said Giolito threw 12 curveballs and zero sliders. Baseball Savant said he threw 10 curveballs and four sliders. The eye test saw three breaking balls that were distinctly tighter than the others, as well as one pitch that was spiked so badly it couldn’t show up on a pitch chart.

However you divvy them up, he only threw two effective breaking balls out of 91 pitches all night. There was this curve to Joe Mauer, set up beautifully by an up-and-in fastball the pitch before:

And this slider to Byron Buxton to start a sequence in the sixth inning.

Here’s the Baseball-Savant chart accounting for all of them — except for the one that landed too far in front of the plate to be tracked.

Baseball Savant

The other two that clearly in the zone were hit hard. Eduardo Escobar spanked a hanging curve to left field for a single, and Brian Dozier smashed a one-hopper for a 6-4-3 double play.

This allowed the Twins to eliminate anything spinning from Giolito’s arsenal, which, is especially helpful when combined with Giolito’s fastball settling into the 91-93 range after a mid-90s start. The result: homers in three consecutive innings over the second half of Giolito’s night.

The Kennys Vargas sequence in particular was the strongest indictment. Giolito started him off with back-to-back changeups — something he did four times on Tuesday, and to great success, since the second one yielded a strike or four all four times. On 0-2, with all his option theoretically open, Omar Narvaez called for one up and in. Giolito only got it inner-half. Oops:

Given that Giolito hadn’t proven he could use his curve as intended, the White Sox battery painted itself into a corner by throwing changeups on the first two pitches. I’m not in Vargas’ head, but these were the three factors at that point:

  1. He isn’t throwing breaking balls worth chasing.
  2. He hasn’t yet tripled up on changeups.
  3. So ... fastball?

Setting up and in put a premium on Giolito’s fastball location, and he missed the wrong way in two dimensions.

All this being said, if you heard that Giolito had no semblance of a breaking ball at any point during his debut, would you have expected him to go six innings against lefty-leaning team that can hit?

I wouldn’t. But Giolito was able to do the heavy lifting with his fastball and changeup, which is why he came away from his start rather encouraged:

"I feel like I belong. I feel like my stuff plays. I'm happy I didn't walk anyone tonight," said Giolito, who threw eight strikes on offspeed pitches and got two swings-and-misses on his changeup. "Fastball-changeup was pretty much all I had. I wasn't throwing the curveball as well as I would have liked, but I'm going to work on that for the next start and hopefully be able to command that pitch a little better.”

"Tonight I was able to control the game a lot better. Last year my time in the big leagues, the game would speed up on me a lot. I'd walk a guy, give up a couple of base hits and start to kind of get out of control. Tonight I felt under control. I was able to trust my stuff. It was just those mistakes."

I’d be encouraged, too. Giolito’s season in Triple-A was easy panic fodder. His velocity didn’t match the inflated earlier reports (or the airing-it-out Futures Game readings), the results were lackluster, and the increased postgame coverage led to an unusual quantity of self-searching quotes. In previous seasons with the Sox ostensibly contending, Giolito would have been able to correct himself in peace.

Giolito could have caused alarm by following Carson Fulmer’s dud with one of his own. Instead, he stayed on the attack despite a pitch mix that resembled the first week of spring training, and he would’ve come away with a quality start had Leury Garcia not lost a liner in the lights.

No sweeping conclusions can be made about Giolito. With one game in the memory bank, one can envision how a start can turn on him should the breaking stuff abandon him again. I’d say, that it’s easier to see how he can be equally or more effective the next time out, simply by giving hitters a third thing to consider.