KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Perhaps the White Sox’ patience with right-hander Lucas Giolito will pay off.
If Giolito’s dominant performance in the Sox’ 6-3 victory Sunday against the Royals provided a snapshot of what’s in store for him, allowing him to take his lumps in 2018 will have been well worth the pain.
Giolito’s first start of 2019 was nothing short of brilliant, as he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He walked leadoff man Whit Merrifield on four pitches in the first before pounding the strike zone with fastballs up and down, sharp curveballs and sliders down and away and well-located changeups to retire 19 consecutive Royals. The fastball, around 94-95, was a couple mph faster than what he averaged last season.
Alex Gordon ended the no-hit bid by lining a 2-2 pitch to center with one out in the seventh, ruining a chance at history but not a fine day’s work.
‘‘It feels good to start off on a good note,’’ Giolito said.
Giolito, the 16th overall pick by the Nationals in the 2012 draft, showed glimpses of excellence — but not nearly enough of them — in his first full season with the Sox in 2018. He was 10-13 with an American League-high 6.13 ERA and led the majors with 90 walks. There was growing sentiment Giolito should go to Class AAA Charlotte to work things out.
‘‘My thinking was, ‘Let’s see if we can get these guys through, let them experience what they’re experiencing,’ ’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘Everybody looks at the successes as things to build on. It’s the failures you take advantage of because those are the things you learn from.’’
It was all success Sunday. After Gordon’s single, Giolito made Jorge Soler his eighth strikeout victim for the second out of the seventh before yielding an RBI double to Ryan O’Hearn and a run-scoring single to Lucas Duda that cut the Sox’ lead to 6-2.
With that, Renteria pulled Giolito in favor of right-hander Ryan Burr. Giolito’s final line: 6 2/3 innings, three hits, two runs (both earned) one walk and eight strikeouts. He threw 99 pitches, 68 for strikes.
‘‘That’s the mental side,’’ Giolito said of shaking off the four-pitch walk to his first batter. ‘‘Just didn’t have good feel the first four pitches. It didn’t really affect anything, so I was like: ‘All right, it is what it is. Just move on, and let’s get these next guys out.’ Just having that mentality, simplifying things makes it a lot easier.’’
Before departing, Giolito fist-bumped the Sox’ infielders and catcher James McCann on the mound. Renteria patted him on the chest for a job well done.
‘‘He had all four pitches going,’’ McCann said. ‘‘I felt comfortable calling any pitch at any time. That’s the sign of a guy who is on his game, and he was on his game.’’
Through six innings, the Royals’ hardest-hit ball was a liner by Billy Hamilton to first baseman Yonder Alonso, who stretched out toward the line to make the catch.
‘‘[Giolito] was commanding the strike zone,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘But on top of that, his delivery was really
clean. His line to the plate was really true for most of the game.’’
Jose Abreu and Alonso hit back-to-back home runs, and Yoan Moncada and Alonso had RBI singles to fuel the offense. Alex Colome pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save with the Sox.
Giolito had come to spring training with a more compact arm swing. And while he expressed enthusiasm, he didn’t pitch well, posting an 8.84 ERA. It all came together when it mattered, though.
‘‘It’s just easier to be on time,” he said. “With the arm action shorter, I don’t feel like my arm’s dragging as much and maybe if I’m leaning forward or something’s mechanically off, I’m still able to get into that firing position and hopefully execute a pitch, make the misses smaller. It feels really good.”
Giolito pitched a seven-inning no-hitter with Charlotte in 2017, the closest he had come to anything like this. He was well aware of what was going on.
‘‘The fans were screaming at me from about the fifth inning, so there was no way not to,’’ he said. ‘‘I was just trying to be efficient.’’