Lucas Giolito is establishing himself as a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award, a year after being the worst pitcher in the league.
It took a pitcher fast blossoming into one of the best in baseball to shut down the vaunted Houston Astros offense on Thursday.
Lucas Giolito, the 24-year-old right-hander for the Chicago White Sox, pitched a complete game shut out against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, limiting them to just four hits while striking out nine. With the win, Giolito improves to 6-1 on the season with a 2.77 ERA, eighth in the American League.
It’s been a stunning turnaround for a pitcher who was the worst in baseball a year ago. In 2018, Giolito had a 6.13 ERA in 32 starts for the White Sox, more than half a run worse than any other qualified starter. He led the league in earned runs allowed and walks while striking out just 125 batters in 173.1 innings.
So far this season, though, Giolito has established himself as a leading Cy Young candidate. He pitched his first career complete game on May 18 against Toronto, the first by a White Sox pitcher in 382 games. He backed that up with a second straight complete game on Thursday, becoming the first in the AL to go the distance twice.
So what’s changed for the 6-foot-6 righty? His strikeouts per nine innings ratio has increased dramatically, from 6.49 in 2018, 55th out of 57 qualified starters, to 10.21 this year. His fastball velocity has seen a slight uptick from 92.4 m.p.h. last year to 93.7 m.p.h. When he came into the league he was purely a fastball pitcher, throwing it 71 percent of the times. This year, though, fastballs only account for 54.8 percent of his pitches while his changeup usage has increased from 11 percent in 2016 to 23.5 percent.
The disappointing 2018 season was a significant slide for a pitcher who was once among the most highly-touted prospects in baseball. The Washington Nationals drafted Giolito 16th overall in 2012 out of a Harvard Prep High School in Los Angeles. Before his rookie campaign of 2016, MLB Pipeline had him ranked as the third-best prospect. After struggling in his first season in the big leagues, though, the Nationals traded him to Chicago in a deal for Adam Eaton in December 2016. In three seasons with the White Sox, Giolito is 19-17 with a 4.85 ERA.
Giolito’s newfound dominance was on full display on Thursday against the Astros. Houston came into the game ranked first in the Majors in batting average and fourth in runs scored. Giolito, though, allowed just one Astros baserunner to get to second base. All four Astros hits he allowed were singles. He finished the game throwing 107 pitches, 82 of them for strikes. Chicago won the game 4-0 to split the four-game series against the AL West division leaders.
The shutout in Houston was Giolito’s fourth straight start giving up no more than one earned run. He’s now surrendered just two runs in his last 28.1 innings pitched. It’s a long way from where he was a year ago as Giolito is finally realizing the potential he had coming into the league.