Lucas Giolito’s first outing may not have netted the outcome the White Sox hoped for, but the look and feel was most definitely there.
The team’s sixth-ranked prospect showed just how much progress he’s made the over the entire season and in particular the last six weeks in his White Sox debut on Tuesday night.
Giolito was promoted from Triple-A Charlotte early Tuesday and looked poised and confident for six innings despite a heavy reliance on the fastball because his curve wasn’t where he wanted. While he yielded three home runs in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Giolito and the White Sox liked what they saw.
“Excellent,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I thought it was a very positive outing.
“Lucas I thought threw the ball very, very well. Fastball was very good. He was using his breaking ball. He threw some that were a little short. But all and all, I thought his mound presence, his attack of the strike zone -- I don’t think he walked anybody, he threw a lot of strikes -- he looked very, very good to me. Very pleased.”
Once the top pitching prospect in baseball, Giolito had lost a little bit of the shine even by the time he was traded to the White Sox last December in the Adam Eaton deal. He struggled at times during a nomadic 2016 campaign with the Nationals -- he was moved seven times in all -- and saw a dip in fastball velocity as his mechanics got out of whack.
Though excited by the trade to the White Sox, Giolito admitted in spring training he wasn’t quite where he yet wanted to be. He struggled early this season at Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts and often failed to pitch deep into games.
But along the way Giolito found his confidence, rediscovered his curveball and began to pitch more consistently. That was the pitcher the White Sox saw on Tuesday night, the one who despite not having his entire arsenal didn’t panic.
Working almost entirely with his fastball -- 69 of his 99 pitchers were four-seamers -- Giolito pitched at a quick pace and got into a rhythm. Giolito got 10 swings and misses, including eight with the fastball, and didn’t walk anyone.
“I felt relaxed,” Giolito said. “I felt confident the whole time.
“I feel like 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.”
Giolito’s outing wasn’t perfect. He tried to go inside with fastballs three times and left them over the middle. Jorge Polanco blasted a game-tying solo homer off Giolito in the fourth, Kennys Vargas hit one off him in the fifth and Eddie Rosario hit a two-run, opposite-field shot in the sixth.
But that he was effective enough to keep the White Sox in the game in spite of his offense, which blew bases-loaded opportunities in the second and third innings, and minus all of his pitches wasn’t lost on Omar Narvaez. Narvaez liked how Giolito competed and the way he spotted his fastball in and out, up and down.
“I think he’s going to be one of our best pitchers,” Narvaez said. “His fastball is kind of sneaky and he has a great changeup. He uses it whenever he wants to and he has a really, really good curveball.
“He made a lot of good pitches (with the fastball). Every time we worked behind he just came back with the fastball.”
Giolito threw his curveball 12 times and used the changeup 16. While he induced a few groundballs with his curve, Giolito wasn’t as effective in two-strike situations, spiking the pitch in front of the plate. Even so, Giolito felt good about what he accomplished and that’s great for the White Sox.
“I feel like I belong,” Giolito said. “I feel like my stuff plays. I’m happy I didn’t walk anyone tonight. I was able to command the fastball pretty well, but 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.”
Trades and injuries have forced Rick Renteria into open tryouts when it comes to closing out ballgames.
So far, Juan Minaya has proven to have the steadiest hand.
The White Sox rookie reliever converted his third save in three tries since his tryout began five days ago. By no means would the White Sox manager officially name anyone the closer in a mostly green bullpen that has seen five pitchers traded and two more lost to season-ending injuries. But Renteria has been impressed with how Minaya has handled ninth inning.
“He's done a nice job,” Renteria said. “We've used him in many different situations over the course of the season. As it turns out, with all the changes that we've had in terms of personnel, we're trying to use guys in different situations and see how they respond. Sometimes you kind of find a little diamond in the rough and so far, he's been kind of our little diamond in the rough.”
The White Sox are glad to have unearthed Minaya, whom they claimed off waivers from the Houston Astros in June 2016. Though he has only pitched in 38 games in his career, Minaya is one of the more experienced relievers in a bullpen that has seen David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard all traded in the last month. The White Sox also lost Nate Jones, Zach Putnam and prospect Zack Burdi to season-ending elbow injuries.
Jake Petricka is the only reliever left from the team’s Opening Day roster. With 232 games, Danny Farquhar also offers an experienced hand in the bullpen. But beyond that, the White Sox bullpen consists of converted starters -- Mike Pelfrey and Dylan Covey -- and rookies.
The situation has led to Minaya, who once saved eight games at Single-A Quad City in 2013, becoming the de facto closer.
“This is a good opportunity,” Minaya said. “I never had that before, so now I’ve got the opportunity, and I’m going to work hard. I’m going to take advantage. I’m going to learn to do that because it is a tough situation in that moment.”
Minaya, 26, said Renteria has implored all of his young relievers to allow themselves to think of the ninth inning as if it were the same as the seventh or eighth. But Minaya -- who has 40 strikeouts and a 4.50 ERA in 32 innings this season -- said that pretending the innings are the same is easier said than done.
“It’s one of the most important parts of the game,” Minaya said. “To be in the ninth inning is a tough situation right there. Everybody wants to be in that spot.
“It’s been a little tough, but that’s part of the game. We continue to play the game. We have to think it’s like the seventh or eighth inning. It’s the same.
“We have to think that it’s the same. But it’s not the same.”
Still, Renteria likes how Minaya showed resolve when faced with adversity on Sunday at the Texas Rangers. The right-hander brushed off a potential collapse after Roughned Odor got the Rangers within 3-2 with a two-out, two-run homer off Minaya. Minaya bounced back and retired Elvis Andrus on a fly out to end the game and earn his second save.
“Despite giving up a homer in that one, he actually looked very confident out there so that didn't jar him,” Renteria said. “And he still comes to the ballpark, he's a hard worker, very detailed in everything he does, and he continues to give you a great attitude, and he wants the ball whenever you give it to him.”