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Two starts in, Lucas Giolito very much a work in progress

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A new pitch — one that that sounds familiar -- is on his list of things he’s working to smooth out

Jim Margalus / South Side Sox

Two starts into his career in the White Sox organization, Lucas Giolito has struggled in two different ways.

Neither reason seems velocity-centric. I suppose I should address the first question everybody has up top.

Partially stoked by a Futures Game showcase inning where he aired it out, partially by the same kind of hard-to-verify minor-league hype that has Michael Kopech associated with 105 mph, there’s been a wide range of opinion on just how hard Giolito is supposed to throw. Compounding concerns is the Charlotte stadium gun, which had him sitting in the high-80s after a couple innings in his debut on Saturday. Yet the same velocity display only had Zack Burdi touching 100 mph once on Opeining Night when the Knights tweeted that he reached it six times, and it was similarly cold for Carson Fulmer, so I was skeptical.

In his second start, we have a better baseline. Durham’s stadium gun matched up with what Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser saw:

That kind of velocity isn’t going to get a lot of retweets or short-form blog entries, but that’s about where he’s supposed to be throwing 100 pitches every five days. Keith Law wasn’t fazed, either:

Important Question: RE: Giolito. Mainly, his velo has just totally fallen. That’s why we should be a bit nervous.
Keith Law: He was throwing two-seamers at 90-91 his first start. That’s about right for him. So, fake news, maybe?

Giolito’s bigger problem through two starts is command. It’s not necessarily surprising, as he’s a big pitcher in the midst of establishing new mechanical habits. Baseball America’s Josh Norris said he was having trouble keeping his delivery in sync, and it showed in his results, as he threw only 43 of 90 pitches for strikes.

It manifested itself differently in his first start, though. Against Norfolk on Saturday, he was able to set up counts in his favor through three innings in order to put hitters away with his breaking stuff. He said the mechanics started loosening on him as the pitch count went up.

“I kind of got tired later in the game, probably the last couple innings,” Giolito told me. “I got away from my four-seamer a little bit, started throwing too many sinkers, not getting through pitches.”

He attributed two of his three HBPs that evening to not finishing his delivery on his sinker (the other was a curve that slipped). For example:

As Giolito headed into the fourth and fifth inning of his start in Durham on Thursday, this part improved. Here’s one example:

(Besides the location, also note the disparity in velocity — 86 in Charlotte, 92 in Durham.)

His fastball command was indeed “iffy” like Glaser said, but it was better than he showed in the second half of his Saturday start. It also might’ve been compromised by his inability to throw either of his breaking pitches for a strike. Durham’s lineup eliminated anything spinning, which 1) made his changeup his most effective pitch, but 2) ultimately culminated in Giolito allowing this homer on a 3-0 fastball.

That also represented a departure from his first outing in Charlotte. While he got a number of swinging strikes on his famous curveball, he said his other breaking pitch excited him more.

“What I liked the most was when I was throwing the cut slider,” Giolito told me. “It’s a new pitch for me. I just learned it in spring training, I’ve been working on it a lot. It’s a pretty good offering, I can throw it for a strike, and hopefully I can continue working on it and make it a valuable weapon for me.”

Here’s one of these cut sliders he threw on Thursday, which froze top prospect Willy Adames for strike three:

Alas, I think that was the only one I saw him throw for a strike. He missed gloveside and down frequently. Between the slider and the curve, catcher Carson Blair got a workout. He had to block a lot of pitches, and Durham eventually started running more on the Charlotte battery as a result.

On the South Side Sox Podcast, I said that Giolito reminds me a lot of Gavin Floyd in terms of the task ahead:

  • First-round pick from another organization fighting outsized top-10-prospect expectations.
  • Big pitcher whose delivery is under renovation.
  • Good velocity, but not great, especially behind in the count.
  • Sharp curveball, but needs to grab strikes with it (or develop a second breaking pitch for that purpose).

Floyd added a slider in his first year with the Sox. He also struggled in his first stint with the Sox, as he gave up 14 homers over his first 39 innings. Then things clicked for him in 2008 and he had a nice White Sox career. It’s not a perfect match — Giolito’s hype was more recent, and he headlined a potential return for Chris Sale before a real one for Adam Eaton, not Freddy Garcia — but he remains a work in progress just the same. The biggest differences are rooted in the expectations we talked about at the top, and managing those things might be the hardest part for everybody.

Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty acknowledged that outside-inside tension in a conversation I had with him. He described Giolito as having “a real high ceiling,” but said that has to be has to be “comfortable in his own skin,” and his job was to help Giolito and the other young pitchers find out what they do best, even if it ends up being a departure from how they were supposed to do it.

“The way things are now is that there’s way too much hype for people. When you have to live up to the standards that everybody sets for you rather than yourself -- there’s no reason to not want to be really good, but there’s some people that think everybody should be a little bit better than they are,” the former Nationals pitching coach said. “I know [Steven] Strasburg went through that.

“Lucas might get a lot of things from a lot of people where their expectations are so high that no matter what they do, people are never going to think they’re as good as they should’ve been. Find out how good you are, trust yourself, know what you do, and give it the best effort you can. You can’t worry about what other people think.”