HOUSTON — He didn’t have his best stuff against baseball’s top offense on Tuesday night, but Lucas Giolito had his changeup.
The young White Sox pitcher showed once again that when he has confidence in an offspeed pitch he’s able to overcome situations where his fastball might not be as good as he’d prefer. Trust in the changeup and a good command of the fastball were more than enough to put together another strong performance.
While Giolito took the decision in a 3-1 White Sox loss to the Houston Astros, he once again earned plaudits for his pitching.
“He was really good,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “His changeup's very good. He obviously can spin a couple different breaking balls. It looks like a heavy fastball. So, a really impressive young starter to be able to navigate the lineup in different ways and get guys out in different ways and really compete.”
Perhaps no one hitter better demonstrated Giolito’s ability to compete than his sixth-inning showdown with Astros No. 5 hitter Marwin Gonzalez. Having just issued his first walk down 2-1 with two outs and a man on second, Giolito threw both his two- and four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball during a lengthy at-bat. With the count full, Gonzalez fouled off six consecutive fastballs before Giolito threw a changeup in the dirt for the whiff on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.
It was one of 18 changeups Giolito threw, with 11 going for strikes.
“The changeup was a good pitch for me aside from a few I left up in the zone,” Giolito said. “I had a lot of confidence in it and that was probably the offspeed pitch I was most comfortable going to in situations.”
Given his fastball velo was an average of 92.2 mph, confidence and comfort were critical. Houston entered the game with a team slash line of .282/.345/.479 and averaging 5.47 runs per contest. The American League West champions offer few easy outs and were clearly the sternest test to date for Giolito, who has never pitched more innings in a season than his current 167 between Triple-A Charlotte and the majors.
Even though the velo isn’t where he’s wanted it in the past two outings, Giolito has pitched well enough. Giolito produced his fourth quality start in six outings in the big leagues as he limited the Astros to two earned runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.
“Felt pretty good about it,” Giolito said. “It was one of those days where I didn’t have my best stuff working. Had a lot of trouble getting the ball to the extension side. That’s something to work on this week going into the next start. But I felt good about how I pitched tonight for sure.”
The White Sox feel pretty good about the production they’ve received from Giolito, who struggled with consistency earlier this season at Triple-A and dropped down in the prospect rankings as a result. The right-hander said he’s pleased with how he’s learned to be more composed on the mound this season. He’s also clearly gained confidence and trust in his stuff.
“Based on everything we saw, the skill set that he would be able to manage his ability on the mound to attack the strike zone,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s throwing his breaking ball more effectively now, the changeup as well.”
“All in all he’s doing what he needs to do. He’s kept hitters off balance. His ball has some life. He has angle. We’re happy with how he’s continued to develop.”
Giolito’s offense didn’t do what it needed to earn him a victory despite another big night from Yoan Moncada. Moncada went 3-for-4 with three singles and shortstop Tim Anderson extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a ninth-inning single.
HOUSTON — As much as he longs to pick first next June, Nick Hostetler has learned to cope in the name of player development.
The White Sox amateur scouting director sees a deep draft class full of high school and college players awaiting. He’d love if the White Sox didn’t have to sweat out other teams’ decisions in what will be another critical moment in the team’s accumulation process.
But Hostetler said Tuesday he’s learned not to let his own feelings get in the way of what’s best for the franchise. Even if the White Sox end up picking third or fourth next June, Hostetler appreciates that the worse draft position is the result of a hot streak by any number of young players.
“It’s really exciting to see some of these young kids have success,” Hostetler said. “I really do like seeing Tim Anderson hit .400 and Lucas Giolito doing what he’s doing. All of these things are so great for the ultimate plan, which is us winning at the big-league level. I don’t ever want to get so selfish where I’m worrying about one pick or whether we’re three or whether we’re four or whatever it is and to use that than to take away from the greater good.”
There’s no question one pick can make all the difference. Colorado has received good production out of the third overall selection of the 2013 draft, Jon Gray, who has thus far given them 7.1 f-Wins Above Replacement in his brief career. But that pales in comparison to the 21.0 WAR produced by second pick Kris Bryant.
Entering Tuesday, the White Sox boasted the third-worst record in the majors. But their lead over the flailing Detroit Tigers, who are fourth, has slipped down to 1 1/2 games.
While a 100-loss season still appears to be in play for the White Sox, it seems far-fetched they would catch Philadelphia or San Francisco to finish with a top-two selection next June.
No matter where the White Sox pick, Hostetler is excited about the prospects of the class, which has a nice blend of hitters and pitchers from high school and college. Hostetler said earlier this month it’s the best class he can remember since 2010.
Still, Hostetler jokes that he’s conflicted when it comes to September scoreboard watching.
“It’s hard not to sit there and look but I’ve done a really good job,” Hostetler said with a laugh. “I’m proud of myself for this. I’ve kind of removed myself from this point. I root for our guys to succeed and to win, but at the same time knowing ultimately come June and three or four years after we’ll really know if picking third or fourth actually mattered.”