WASHINGTON -- With rain in the forecast that would delay and eventually shorten his Major League debut in the Nationals' 5-0 win over the Mets on Tuesday night, Lucas Giolito made multiple visits into the office of manager Dusty Baker.
Giolito, Major League Baseball's No.1 prospect, was wondering what time the game would start because he was anxious to get out on the field, a right granted to anyone making their first start and especially for a 21-year old. He began his warmup routine with more time before a game than he normally would, and as he stretched in the outfield and started to play catch, it hit him.
"This is a big league game," Giolito said. "I'm pitching, I'm starting against the Mets."
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When he pictured this night in his head, the weather was always sunny and 72 degrees. But that was not the case Tuesday when spells of rain pushed back and prematurely ended his start, which was effective, but brief.
He took the mound after a 55-minute delay prior to the game, and fired a 95-mph fastball to Curtis Granderson for his first pitch in the Major Leagues. Giolito said any pregame nerves went anyway with that pitch and everything started to feel like just another start. It's the same poise that led the Nationals to believe he was ready to make his first start in a crucial game against a division rival.
Giolito allowed a single to Granderson in that at-bat, but it was the only hit the Mets recorded against him. Giolito promptly struck out the next batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, on a 95-mph fastball for his first career strikeout and lone punchout of the night. The two balls from that first pitch and first strikeout were displayed in his locker after the game.
Giolito stifled the Mets' offense through four scoreless innings, only issuing a pair of walks scattered around weak contact. He threw 45 pitches (29 strikes) through four innings before rain again intensified. The game went into a second delay that would last one hour and 25 minutes in the middle of Danny Espinosa's at-bat, as Giolito stood on deck. When the inning resumed, the Nationals chose not to send their top prospect back to the mound, lifting him for a pinch-hitter, Clint Robinson, then sending Yusmeiro Petit to pitch the fifth.
"We were hoping that rain would subside, but it didn't," Baker said. "He showed good control. He got out of whack a little bit there, then he found it back. He had a good fastball, which we knew, and he threw some outstanding breaking balls and a few changeups."
His parents, brother, one of his best friends and his girlfriend were all in the stands among the 29,918 fans at Nationals Park. The crowd roared with a standing ovation from the moment Giolito was shown walking from the bullpen to the dugout. He became the first pitcher selected by the Nationals in the first round to make his MLB debut with Washington since Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 in his first start on June 8, 2010, at Nationals Park.
Coincidentally, the reason Giolito was even making this start Tuesday night was because Strasburg is currently on the disabled list with an upper back strain. The club received the results of Strasburg's MRI Tuesday, which confirmed the strain, but revealed no further damage -- an encouraging sign especially considering he went out to throw a bullpen session before Tuesday's game. And although Giolito was brought in to fill Strasburg's spot in the rotation, the Nationals plan to evaluate Giolito on a start-by-start basis on whether he will remain in the Majors.
Giolito was supposed to go to Triple-A when he received a phone call from assistant general manager Doug Harris telling him to "hang on, be ready for whatever." Giolito was not sure what that meant, before the next call from Harris told him he would be promoted to the Majors.
"I'll remember that call for the rest of my life," Giolito said.
Giolito said he received scores of pregame advice, but a piece of advice offered by Baker -- who got it from Hank Aaron, no less -- stuck with him: "You can be anxious, you can be nervous, but don't be scared."
"You belong here" Baker told him.
"That's just what I tried to prove," Giolito said.
Tuesday night may have offered just a small taste, but Giolito certainly looked like he belonged.