GLENDALE, Ariz. — Right-hander Lucas Giolito “is always going to be a little kid at heart,” James Shields said.
“Aren’t we all?”
Baseball is a kid’s game and always will be, and even 36-year-olds such as Shields don’t always act their age in a clubhouse or around the ballpark. But there’s a time to be serious, and it’s apparent to Shields that Giolito, 23, knows when.
“He’s definitely well beyond his years,’’ said Shields, owner of 2,080 career strikeouts and nine consecutive seasons with 200-plus innings pitched. “He has a great attitude every day and works hard. He comes to the park with a purpose, and he knows himself.’’
Giolito, who made his first 2018 Cactus League appearance Wednesday with two so-so innings in the White Sox’ 5-4 victory against the Texas Rangers, struggled last spring but got it together working through 24 starts at Class AAA Charlotte. Then he posted a tidy 2.38 ERA in seven starts with the Sox in August and September.
“The thing I saw last year was the in-game adjustments he made hitter by hitter, which is very difficult for a young guy in the big leagues,’’ Shields said. “You want to pitch to your strength, but you realize these are big-league hitters, and your strength might not work to that particular hitter.’’
Giolito is taking notes.
“It’s the process of learning the game facing big-league hitters more and learning their tendencies against you specifically,’’ Giolito said. “I’m looking forward to this year, especially to get more experience and pitch to all these guys and to start to keep a little book on how they do against me and what kind of things I can do against them.’’
The Sox’ other veteran starter, Miguel Gonzalez, 33, likes what he has seen of Giolito in camp.
“He’s a special kid,’’ Gonzalez said. “I think he’s learned a lot from last year. He came a little more prepared. I see him getting after it in the weight room. And on his sides, he’ll go watch other guys, the veterans, to see what they’re doing. That’s important. He’s a little more verbal with everybody in general. I’m excited to watch him pitch.’’
Giolito walked one batter in each inning, struck out one and gave up two runs (one earned) and two hits. On a more intriguing note, he touched 95 mph, also getting swings and misses with his big curve. Last season, he worked effectively with a 92-93 mph four-seam fastball by moving it up and down to change hitters’ eye levels, and now he hopes to up the ante by bringing back the mid-90s heat that helped make him a No. 16 draft pick and top-tier prospect of the Washington Nationals.
“I’m hoping that’ll be more the norm, throw some 95s in there, a little bit of a higher velocity,’’ Giolito said. “I feel like I’m using my body a little bit better than I was last year. But at the same time, I did get a little out of sync today. So I’m going to keep working on that.’’
Giolito is a core piece in the Sox’ stable of young pitching talent, representing the first wave. As he was doing an interview, he looked up at a clubhouse TV screen to see prospect Dylan Cease working in the eighth inning. Then he gushed about the Sox’ future.
“Saw [Michael Kopech] pitch a couple of days ago, his stuff is electric,’’ Giolito said.
“I know Dylan’s stuff is electric. I’m looking forward to seeing all the young guys pitch and see what they bring to the table. I can’t wait to have ’em up there and helping the club.’’
There will be plenty of interest in Giolito’s development in his first full season.
“It’s going to be fun to watch his second year, how he adjusts to the league,’’ Shields said. “Facing teams more than once is definitely a big deal. But he has powerful stuff — it’s electric — so he’ll be ready to go.’’
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