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White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito wears ‘ace’ label well

The likely Opening Day starter is everything you want in a staff ace.

White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito. (AP)
AP Photos

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Right-hander Lucas Giolito hasn’t been named the White Sox’ Opening Day starter, but he certainly will be when manager Tony La Russa gets around to it.

That Giolito is really the only choice says a lot, considering that left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Lance Lynn — a pair of seasoned veterans who finished ahead of him in American League Cy Young voting last season — are available, too. Keuchel has made three Opening Day starts in his career, and Lynn was the Rangers’ Opening Day starter last season.

The ‘‘ace” title is what comes with being the incumbent — Giolito was the Sox’ Opening Day starter in 2020 — then throwing a no-hitter during the regular season and taking a perfect game into the seventh inning of his first postseason appearance last year. Oh, and having the best stuff among the three and being a centerpiece of the Sox’ rebuild doesn’t hurt, either.

‘‘It means a lot to be, like, labeled the ace by media, fans, all that,’’ Giolito said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ‘‘It makes me feel good. It’s a huge honor to be considered that, especially with the caliber of pitching we have on the team, especially with Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn next to me. Those guys could go be the ace on a staff.’’

And then Giolito said what a leader of a staff should say.

‘‘But I want our rotation to have five aces,’’ he said. ‘‘From a competitive standpoint, I want our coaches and the players playing behind us saying we have a great chance to win today because the ace is taking the mound, and that’s all five days.’’

The way Sox pitchers are lined up in their scheduled Cactus League starts and live bullpens, the rotation is shaping up like this: Giolito, Keuchel, Lynn, right-hander Dylan Cease and either left-hander Carlos Rodon or right-hander Reynaldo Lopez.

Giolito expressed what everyone knows about Cease, Lopez and Rodon.

‘‘The back end of our rotation, we have immense talent,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s just [taking the] next step for those guys, and they’re getting there. Those next steps are going to be made sooner rather than later.’’

Giolito was stoked after seeing what new pitching coach Ethan Katz worked on with Cease and Lopez during the offseason.

‘‘Dylan is throwing his fastball much better now than last year,’’ Giolito said. ‘‘I’m excited to see him get into game action and see how that translates.’’

Lopez was in constant communication with Katz during the offseason and tightened up his arm swing.

‘‘I watched [Lopez’s] first bullpen in camp, and I was like: ‘Oh, my God, your arm action. You cleaned it up,’ ’’ Giolito said. “His curveball is back. The curveball he had back with the Washington Nationals [when he and Giolito were teammates], like, there it is. OK.’’

Perhaps a camp battle for the fifth spot will push Lopez and Rodon.

‘‘So much talent,’’ Giolito said of Rodon. ‘‘He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, unfortunately, but he’s healthy now. And the cherry on top is the work he’s putting in with Ethan.’’

Giolito also is working on things, specifically the shape of his slider and making it a plus third pitch. He has dominated at times using only his fastball and changeup.

So he wants to be even better — as every staff leader should.

‘‘I like to lead by example,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m a pretty relaxed guy in the clubhouse. I don’t like to get on anybody’s butt or anything like that. I want our team atmosphere to continue to be where it’s at, where everyone can be themselves and be comfortable.

‘‘But talking pitching, hearing guys out, giving advice to young pitchers, that’s a huge part of my role. [So is] being a good representation of the organization when it comes to charity work and fan interaction. I take all of that very seriously.’’