GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Lucas Giolito knows if he had performed better in 2016 he wouldn’t have endured the season from travel hell.
Instead, the top pitching prospect in baseball struggled with consistency in the big leagues and the Washington Nationals constantly shuffled him around. Giolito — one of three pitchers acquired in the Adam Eaton trade in December and MLB.com’s 11th-ranked prospect — was moved eight different times throughout the Nationals organization last season.
More irritated by his inability to pitch well for a team in a pennant race, the tall right-hander understands why he spent much of last season on the go. But it’s also one of the main reasons why Giolito, who is likely to begin the 2017 season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Charlotte, is excited for a fresh start with the White Sox.
“It was frustrating because I knew if you get up there and pitch well I can stay, but I didn’t,” Giolito said. “I wanted to help the team win. That’s really all I wanted to do. And all my starts, aside from my debut, which got cut short by the rain, I did not give the team a chance to win. So rightfully so I got sent down. But yeah, it’s frustrating.
“At the same time, with this club I know there might be a little more leeway. I know they might allow younger guys more time to settle in, at least from what I’ve seen.”
The White Sox have made no secret about their plans to rebuild. Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are four of the seven prospects acquired in December whom the White Sox hope to build around.
General manager Rick Hahn has made it increasingly clear that player development is the team’s top priority.
“At this point going forward we’re really not going to have anyone in Chicago until they’ve answered any questions we’ve had for them at the minor league level and we feel they’re ready to succeed,” Hahn said last month at SoxFest.
And once those players arrive, they’ll be given ample opportunities to prove whether or not they belong. The routine will be normal with regular turns in the rotation rather than spot starts here and there.
The team’s mindset is in stark contrast with Washington, which has been in win-now mode for the past few seasons. Whenever the Nationals called upon Giolito, who hadn’t pitched above Double-A Harrisburg before last June, they needed him to fill in for a rotation that only had three pitchers make more than 25 starts.
Giolito pitched four scoreless innings in a rain-shortened MLB debut on June 28 and then didn’t pitch again until July 7. With Stephen Strasburg back in the rotation, the Nationals then sent Giolito to Single-A Hagerstown so he could get another turn before the All-Star break. Then it was on to Triple-A Syracuse for one start and back to Washington for another.
After he struggled in that outing, Giolito spent a month at Syracuse, returned to the bigs to struggle again on Aug. 28 against Colorado, and went back to Triple-A for one more. Finally, Giolito returned to Washington on Sept. 7 and stayed the rest of the season, though he only pitched twice in a month. In six big league games (four starts), Giolito had a 6.75 ERA.
The up-and-down nature of Giolito’s season prompted MLB.com’s Jim Callis to write: “I also don't think the Nationals handled him very well last season, calling him to Washington on five separate occasions but never letting him take consecutive turns in the rotation, as well as having him change teams nine times.”
Giolito remembers a couple of small planes back and forth from Washington to Syracuse. He also drove a few times because it was so close.
“All sorts of ways of moving around,” he said.
It’s also treatment that’s normally reserved for a Four-A pitcher who has options to burn rather than a top prospect trying to find stability.
Giolito — who was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school — thought some of his struggles were related to poor mechanics and getting away from what had made him successful. The 6-foot-6 pitcher said he tried to simplify his mechanics this winter in order to allow the ball to leave his hand more freely and easily.
Giolito is pleased with the results so far. His main goals early in camp have been commanding his fastball low and away to right-hander hitters and learning how to throw his curveball for a called strike.
“It’s coming out very good,” Giolito said. “Much better than last year. I made a lot of positive changes.
“The time in the big leagues was definitely fun. But going up and down a lot can be like a grind. Getting on the plane, doing this, you’re pitching the next day. You have to be able to try and stay level headed and focus on the next day or task at hand. But when you’re moving around a lot it can be difficult.”
The White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56 prior to June 24's game against the Oakland Athletics, a deserving honor for one of the best pitchers in franchise history. The left-hander compiled a 3.83 ERA and won 161 games during 12 seasons with the White Sox, and perhaps more impressively, he threw over 200 innings every year he was a full-time member of the team's starting rotation.
So with the White Sox announcing Buehrle's number retirement ceremony for this summer, let's take a look back at the best games the St. Charles, Mo. native pitched with the White Sox.
1. July 23, 2009: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:03
Buehrle's perfect game, complete with Dewayne Wise's legendary catch, sits at the top of mountain of Buehrle's historic achievements with the White Sox. This was a vintage Buehrle game, with him working quickly and getting plenty of weak contact. It just turned out that Tampa Bay couldn't get anyone on base in it.
2. April 18, 2007: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K vs. Texas. Time of game: 2:03
By game score, this was actually the best game Buehrle pitched in his career thanks to the two more strikeouts he had than in his perfect game. And in no-hitting the Rangers, Buehrle still faced the minimum — after walking Sammy Sosa, he picked off the former Cubs slugger.
3. April 16, 2005: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K vs. Seattle. Time of game: 1:39
The 99-minute game might get lost in Buehrle's career thanks to his no-hitter and perfect game, but it's right up there in terms of how impressive it was. Not only did Buehrle set a career high in strikeouts against Seattle, but only one Mariners player got a hit that day (Ichiro, who naturally had all three). And it was the first — and still only — nine-inning game to be completed in under 100 minutes since 1984.
4. Aug. 3, 2001: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:12
Before Buehrle was an All-Star, World Series winner and no-hitter/perfect game thrower, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Devil Rays before Damian Rolls singled to break it up. This wasn't Buehrle's first great start of his career — that came in a three-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers on May 26, 2001 — but it stood up for a decade and a half as one of the best games he pitched in the majors.
5. July 21, 2004: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Cleveland. Time of game: 2:31
This was another brush with perfection for Buehrle, who only allowed a one-out, seventh-inning single to Omar Vizquel (he got Matt Lawton to hit into a double play after, allowing him to face the minimum for the first time in his career). This is the longest game in Buehrle's top five thanks to the White Sox blasting Cliff Lee and the Indians for 14 runs, but even then, barely over two and a half hours was a relatively brisk pace.