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Giolito's 2020 goal: 'I can get even better' 

Ace aims to build on breakout fueled by mechanics, mental approach
@scottmerkin
November 5, 2019

CHICAGO -- Lucas Giolito was selected as one of the three finalists as American League Outstanding Pitcher in the 2019 Players Choice Awards. When his name was announced with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the AL’s two most dominant pitchers, the White Sox right-hander followed up his great season with

CHICAGO -- Lucas Giolito was selected as one of the three finalists as American League Outstanding Pitcher in the 2019 Players Choice Awards. When his name was announced with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the AL’s two most dominant pitchers, the White Sox right-hander followed up his great season with an even better tweet.

“Yea I got this in the bag ...” tweeted Giolito from his @LGio27 account, followed by a smiley face emoji.

“But seriously this is a huge honor and I’m humbled to be in this conversation,” Giolito continued. “Now back to work for next season.”

Verlander eventually won the award as voted on by the players, but Giolito’s remarkable campaign absolutely belonged in consideration with the Houston aces. Giolito finished with a 14-9 record, a 3.41 ERA, three complete games, two shutouts and 228 strikeouts with just 57 walks over 176 2/3 innings and 29 starts. Those numbers followed up Giolito’s first full season in the Majors in 2018, where he had the highest ERA among all starters (6.13) and he led the AL in walks (90).

His breakout effort in 2019 only marks the beginning for him and the rebuilding White Sox.

“It’s not the results we wanted. I thought we could have played better,” said Giolito, examining the 2019 season as a whole. “But [it was] valuable experience for a lot of guys, especially younger guys, guys like me, guys younger than me. And just the team continuing to jell and come together.

“Yeah, I’d say it was a positive year. A lot of good individual years, but now we kind of take all that we learned from the good and the bad and we come out next year ready to go.”

What went right?

Giolito’s offseason dedication and thorough work process is more of a life lesson for success than purely a baseball lesson. Basically, if you don’t like what you see, change it.

The 25-year-old did not let his 2018 struggles come close to defining him, knowing he had the ability to reach an elite level, so Giolito revamped not only his mound mechanics but also his mental approach. When things occasionally went sideways on Giolito last season, he usually was able to refocus and limit the damage to one or two runs rather than let it escalate, as too often happened in ’18.

There also was a set work plan for Giolito on every day from one start to the next. He would follow that plan whether it came after a three-hit shutout or the occasional disappointing outing, adjusting slightly later in the year to compensate for his extended workload. Giolito got rid of his sinker after studying data regarding the pitch during Spring Training and placed more of a focus on his four-seamer.

“With the year I had [in 2018], I knew that I was going to be better,” Giolito said. “It can’t get worse than what I posted [then]. I knew that there [were] adjustments that needed to be made and I made those adjustments.

“I’d say I surprised myself at times. ... I felt like there’s periods of time this year where I kind of got into my groove and I was with my routine perfectly and I was going out there with a lot of confidence. There were times this year where I had struggles, I had developed a bad habit here and there. That’s why I think I can get even better than what I did this year.”

What went wrong?

A left hamstring injury suffered during a start on April 17 against the Royals kept Giolito out of action until May 2. He then missed the final three starts of his season due to a mild lat strain, with the White Sox erring on the side of caution by shutting him down. Giolito also struggled in his starts against the Cubs with 12 runs allowed over 8 1/3 innings. That contributed to his 0-3 record with a 7.17 ERA in four Interleague starts.

Best moment

On May 23, Giolito threw a four-hit shutout with nine strikeouts and one walk at Houston against the AL champs. On Aug. 21, Giolito threw a three-hit shutout at Target Field against the AL Central champion Twins with 12 strikeouts and no walks. He had allowed four home runs and seven runs in his previous start vs. the Twins on July 25.

2020 outlook

This past season serves as a baseline for Giolito’s future growth. He certainly has the potential to remain a top-of-the-rotation starter, an All-Star and the team’s likely Opening Day hurler in 2020, regardless of who might join the White Sox this offseason through free agency or a trade.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.