CHICAGO -- Take a step away from the wins and losses in the present when evaluating the young White Sox starting pitching of the future. It was on full display once again Sunday, with Lucas Giolito setting a career high with 13 strikeouts in a 2-0 loss to Oakland before 30,951 on Harold Baines Day at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Narrow the focus to the second half of the season, and it’s easy to see why the White Sox would be excited about a front five including Giolito, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez, not to mention Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, all recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“In the future we can be one of the most dominant rotations in baseball,” Giolito said. “You look at the raw stuff we all have, it's there. It's just a matter of continuing to build confidence, gain experience, and at the end of the day, just going out there and executing.”
Giolito rates as a prime example of the development process within a rebuilding team.
After posting a miserable 6.13 ERA over 32 starts last season, Giolito made changes to his routine and mechanics this past offseason that paid All-Star dividends in the first half of 2019. He didn’t win a game during July, but even that stretch was more about a couple of rough starts as opposed to a true step back.
On Sunday, Giolito fanned Matt Olson, Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman in the sixth, completing his day at 103 pitches and with the 13 strikeouts against one walk and five hits. Per Statcast, Giolito recorded 20 swinging strikes and 21 called strikes, with 15 of those swinging strikes coming off his fastball.
“I had really good stuff today, good life on my fastball,” said Giolito, who topped out at 96.2 mph. “[Catcher James] McCann was seeing early that they might have been cheating to the slower stuff, and we were just popping fastballs up in the zone, late counts, getting strikeouts with that. Pretty solid.”
“His stuff was a little crisper today, a little sharper,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Changeup was working well.”
One bad inning -- or, more specifically, lapses to two hitters to open the fourth -- proved the difference. Matt Chapman started the frame with a blast to right-center that Jon Jay got a glove on with a leaping attempt over the wall, but while he saved the home run, the ball flew out of his glove for a double as he brought it back over the fence. Olson followed with his 23rd home run, representing the scoring for the contest.
“Went out there in the fourth inning and didn't have my focus like I had the other innings,” Giolito said. “You do that in the big leagues, they're going to hurt you.
“Double, homer real quick. It was one of those days where I had to be putting up zeros to give our team a chance, and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that.”
Those zeros were necessary with the White Sox offense managing five hits, including a first-inning double from Tim Anderson, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. They were shut out for the second time this weekend, scoring a total of three runs across the three games against Oakland.
Chris Bassitt threw seven shutout innings for Oakland, beating the team with which he began his career. Bassitt would look good as part of this White Sox staff moving forward, but Chicago understandably likes the core in place.
Cease has electric stuff and has improved with each start of his rookie season, and he'll get his toughest challenge to date on Monday against the Astros. Lopez has produced a 2.13 ERA over six second-half starts, making good on his guarantee to be better than his 6.34 ERA prior to the All-Star break.
And Giolito has emerged as a possible No. 1 on a staff featuring a few such possibilities, with his stuff being where it should be after admittedly being a little flat out of the break. Giolito got in the weight room before his past two starts and focused more on maintenance for the long season to get back on track.
“It's all part of the growing and learning process at this level,” said Giolito, who has 171 strikeouts over 136 2/3 innings for an average of 11.26 strikeouts per nine. “It's great to see. I think with more time and experience, we're just going to continue to get better and better.
“For me, the biggest thing is just continuing to step on the gas as I go deeper and deeper into the game. That fourth inning, I kind of let up a little bit to start that inning, and two runs happened really quick. I'm going to learn a lot from this one today.”