Lucas Giolito’s White Sox plan: Go from ‘atrocious’ to ‘dominant’ and stay there

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Lucas Giolito went 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA for the White Sox last season. (AP)

It was only nine months ago. If Lucas Giolito could put it any further in his rearview mirror, believe it, he would.

But as the towering 23-year-old right-hander prepares to report to spring training next week — with big ideas such as 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings dancing in his head — he still all too easily can reconnect with the way he felt on the mound as recently as last May.

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That’s his word, not mine. After I watched Giolito lose for the White Sox’ Class AAA team on May 8 — dropping his record at Charlotte to 0-5 and his ERA to 7.31 — he sized up the state of his pitching as, well, “atrocious.” His velocity, which once touched triple digits, was down some. His fastball command had become a more significant issue.

And then there was that old habit of thinking negatively.

“Looking back on it, I wish that I had a little bit more of a positive attitude then,” he said two weekends ago at SoxFest. “But I was really trying to regain confidence I’d lost in the past couple of years. I’d had a little bit of big-league time [with the Nationals in 2016], and it didn’t go well, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get back up there.

“I’ve learned over time that you have so much more control over your positive and negative thoughts than you think you do.”

If Giolito is going to be the key man in the Sox rotation in 2018 — and he has his mind set on being just that — it’ll mean unburdening himself of his Nats story. Yes, he was a No. 1 pick in 2012. Yes, Tommy John surgery derailed him right off the bat. Yes, his first go-round in the majors a few years later amounted to a rocky-at-best 21⅓ innings. Yes, it turned out the Stephen Strasburg comparisons had been a little much.

So, goodbye to all that.

It also will mean picking up where he left off with the Sox, who acquired him in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. In seven major-league starts last August and September, Giolito was an impressive 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA — and it wasn’t just about his fastball anymore. The slider was getting over. The curveball, too. And the negative thoughts were no longer in his repertoire.

“I’d gradually started to trust my stuff again,” Giolito said, giving credit to his pitching coach in Charlotte, Steve McCatty. “I started to go out there and be on the mound and think, ‘I’m better than every guy who steps in the box. I’m going to get this guy out.’ If you want to be a dominant starting pitcher, that’s the kind of mindset you need to have.”

Can Giolito be the Sox pitcher who leads the way in 2018? Might we look back on him someday as one of the biggest keys to the rebuild? He’ll take one stellar season and go from there, if it’s all the same to the rest of us.

“I want to spend the entire season in the big leagues,” he said. “I want to throw 200 innings, because if you throw 200 innings in the big leagues you’re doing something right for the team. That’s what it’s all about.

“I want to be that guy who can eat innings. And I want to pitch with confidence. I want to keep thinking positive.”

No more “atrocious”?

The question got a broad smile.

“I don’t think I’ll ever use that word again.”

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