Four pitches deep into the game, and baseball’s consensus top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito was visibly frustrated. Four straight balls to Bowie Baysox leadoff hitter Glynn Davis was not exactly how Giolito wanted to kick off his fourth start for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He especially did not want to start the game this way after struggling with command in his first three starts since being promoted to the Double-A level.
After breezing through 13 games at High-A Potomac — 2.71 ERA, 11.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 — Giolito’s string of dominant starts was interrupted once promoted. Over his first ten innings at Double-A, he allowed ten earned runs and walked six while striking out only seven. In his third start, he managed 6.2 innings of one-run baseball, but did walk four. All told, it left him with a 5.94 ERA with opponents batting a solid .299 against Giolito heading into his fourth start.
Shaking the leadoff walk off, Giolito began mowing through the Baysox lineup with surgical precision. He allowed only one hit, the aforementioned base on balls, and a hit batter, while striking out 11. At one point, Giolito struck out six hitters in a row, more than one on three pitches. He retired the final 17 hitters faced following Chance Sisco‘s one out single in the second inning, and used just 99 pitches.
“I’ve been working on some mechanical things with our pitching coach. I felt like tonight I was really able to repeat my mechanics properly and stay smooth, low effort,” the 2012 first round pick of the Washington Nationals said. “That’s when I pitch my best, when everything’s working and I stay deliberate and smooth.”
Senators’ pitching coach Chris Michalak has been working with Giolito to hone and tighten his mechanics, and noticed the results beginning to pay off.
“He made some adjustments that he’s been working on since he got here. He’s doing a better job of repeating his delivery, using his legs a little bit more, and getting more extension with his pitches,” Michalak said.
“When he first got here he was really coming off his pitches quite a bit. I don’t know if you want to call it short striding, but he wasn’t using his legs to the best of his ability and full potential.”
Against Bowie, Giolito’s full arsenal was on display. He was aggressive early in the count with his 93-95 mph fastball. With full command of his fastball, Giolito was working ahead in the count for most of the game. With two strikes, he frequently went to his 78 mph 12-to-6 curveball or low-80’s diving changeup.
“Later in the game when I started retiring all those guys in a row, it felt like I could go out there and trust any of my pitches in any count. When all three are working, you have a lot of confidence. I was pitching off my fastball the whole way. I felt like when I kept my fastball low in the zone, I could get weak contact early or set it up for a curveball strikeout,” the 21-year-old said.
Unlike many young pitchers, Giolito frequently went to his secondary pitches early in the count. He appeared to slightly lose the feel for his offspeed pitches following an extended turn at-bat for the Senators in the bottom of the third, and struggled to locate his curveball for strikes in the top of the fourth. That did not last long, however, as Giolito came out focused in the fifth, and worked his change and curve early in the count.
“I didn’t really feel like I had to shy away from anything,” Giolito said. “My stuff felt good, but I lost feel of it for a minute. I was able to come back out, and I do like to throw curveball and changeup early just to gain confidence with them.”
Facing a little bit of adversity early on in his Double-A career has been good for the tall 6’6″ California native. It’s helped him learn to make some minor mechanical adjustments while having to face more mature hitters who have a plan for their at-bats.
“A lot of times as a pitcher when things aren’t going your way you want to get tighter, harder, when in reality the best thing to do is stay relaxed,” he said.
With three less than stellar starts in the rearview mirror, Lucas Giolito looks settled in at the Double-A level. The Nationals delayed the start of his season until early May in an effort to allow him to pitch deep into August. He will blow past his career-high innings total of 98.0 set last season, and is feeling good.
“This year I came into it with a little bit more of a mission — just become a better pitcher overall and make my way up. One of my goals was to make it up to Double-A this year. I’ve trusted the process since Day One, and it feels great to be able to go out and throw seven innings in August.”