It’s time to give credit where credit is due: Lucas Giolito’s stunning turnaround from arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball to perhaps the best from last season to this one is his to own.
It was Giolito who made the effort in the offseason, Giolito who made changes to his arm swing and Giolito who is executing pitches that have led to a 9-1 record and a 2.28 ERA that’s almost four full runs lower than what he posted last season.
Having a personal catcher, James McCann, has played a role, too, and that wouldn’t be mentioned so much if Giolito himself wasn’t crediting McCann after every start.
“I’m going out there with a very clear mind because McCann does most of the thinking back there,” Giolito said. “He deserves a lot of credit. He has been fantastic.”
Giolito trusts McCann’s pitch-calling and sequencing and, not unlike Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale in Sox uniforms before him, he’s working faster and staying in rhythm.
“I don’t think I have shaken him the last couple [starts],” Giolito said. “I will if I’m super-set on putting a guy away with a heater or changeup. But especially early in the count, he’s doing his research, he’s finding different patterns we can get to and ways to change them up.”
Giolito is a deep thinker whose wheels are always turning, but sometimes it’s best to think less and just throw the ball. A good catcher allows that.
“You can work faster,” Giolito said. “There is less and less time for your brain to get in the way. I get the ball back, see the sign, execute. Get the ball, see the sign, execute. Over and over.”
Implementing scouting reports, video and a number-crunching formula he learned from former MLB catcher Brad Ausmus, who was his manager with the Tigers, McCann comes up with a plan before every series for that particular opponent. Then he tailors it for every pitcher.
It keeps Giolito in lock-step with McCann, which is especially big with runners on in high-leverage moments.
“He’s prepared for that situation instead
of having to think it through on the fly,” McCann said.
While McCann can expect a thank-you note at season’s end if this excellence continues, he won’t be the only one getting one. Giolito also credits Giants assistant pitching coordinator Ethan Katz, his former pitching coach at Harvard-Westlake (California) High School, for indirectly helping him develop a more compact arm swing that immediately caught the Sox coaching staff’s eye at Giolito’s first bullpen session of spring training.
“[He introduced] me to the drills I do now,” Giolito said. “It was never his plan or my plan to shorten my arm action. It just happened because of the drills I was doing.
“In the offseason, I was like, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been trying to get my to try this stuff for a couple of years now, and I have been stubborn and haven’t listened, but look at what I did last year. I have to change something.’ ”
Katz wanted Giolito to use weighted balls and a core velocity belt in drills.
“I was all ears,” Giolito said. “ ‘I’ll give it a shot. It’s not going to hurt me,’ and I went from there. All the drills ended up being super helpful.”
It led to a more efficient delivery, one that has made pitching fun again for the No. 13 overall pick by the Nationals in 2012.
“It’s fun because I have confidence that I’m going to throw more strikes than not and get deep into games,” Giolito said. “And it gets more fun as the game goes along. I’m challenging myself to get to the eighth inning. I’m out there thinking, ‘Two-run lead. Let’s get more zeroes.’ It’s a ton of fun.”