Giolito gets the call for Opening Day

March 15th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- officially was named the White Sox Opening Day starter by manager Tony La Russa prior to Monday afternoon’s contest against the Cubs at Camelback Ranch.

Giolito earned his second straight Opening Day start, making him the first White Sox right-hander to hold such an honor since Jaime Navarro in 1997-98. But this start in Anaheim on April 1, with Dylan Bundy going for the Angels, holds extra meaning for Giolito in that it’s the first day in what could be a very special season for the South Siders.

“I think it makes it more fun, man,” said Giolito during a Monday Zoom call. “Being the Opening Day starter is a definite honor, but being the Opening Day starter of a team that has a chance at contending for a World Series, it just makes it more important, more fun.

“For me, the focus is very much -- you know how I am -- one at a time. It's going to be one start out of hopefully a lot in the season. When it comes down to that day, it's going to be pitch by pitch by pitch. That's kind of where my focus lies, not too much on the big picture. Obviously we know what our goals are, big picture-wise. But, for me, it's very singular. I've got that one start coming up, got a few more here in spring to prepare for it, and then keep going from there.”

The news of Giolito going on Day 1 is about as surprising as a forecast for cold weather in Chicago in early April. At 26, he is one of the leaders on this team, let alone in the rotation.

After a miserable 2018 campaign, in which Giolito finished with a 6.13 ERA over 32 starts, he tirelessly worked to change his fortunes with as much focus going into his mound mindset and what he does to prepare in between starts as any specific physical changes to his delivery or his repertoire.

Even with Giolito finishing tied for sixth in the American League Cy Young voting in 2019 and seventh in '20, that quest for excellence continues.

“I've earned this spot over the last couple years. We'll forget about '18, but we'll talk about what I built in '19 and '20, for sure,” Giolito said. “I think I've proven I'm one of the top starters in this league. For me, the biggest thing is being more consistent. I know I can be more consistent than I've shown. I've definitely shown a lot more consistency the longer and longer I've pitched in this league. But there's so many things I can improve upon, and that's the goal, to keep improving.

“I'm never going to be complacent with where I'm at. It's obviously an honor to be named Opening Day starter for this season. I'm going to really appreciate that. I'm not taking it for granted. Hopefully we have a great year this year. And then next year, I'm going to do everything I can to earn that role again.”

La Russa appreciates Giolito’s appreciation of the honor.

“Absolutely. Because it is a tremendous honor. A tremendous responsibility, and we all know it is,” La Russa said. “It goes with responsibility and accountability. Obviously the closer, the setup guys, where you hit in the lineup, all that stuff. So Lucas’ comments were what you would expect and what we need.”

“I wonder sometimes if I didn't get my [tail] kicked so bad in '18, would I have really found the motivation to find who I really am out on the mound?” Giolito said. “It sounds weird to say, but I kind of needed that a little bit and it's helped propel me to where I am. The work never stops.”

Dallas Keuchel will follow Giolito in the rotation, and Lance Lynn gets the No. 3 spot. Giolito faced the Twins on July 24 at Guaranteed Rate Field to start the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and his first pitch to Max Kepler was hit for a home run.

Minnesota tagged Giolito for seven runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings, but the right-hander learned instantly from that experience. When he started Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series in '20, Giolito hurled six perfect innings against the A’s.

“Despite how strange it was -- having the shortened Summer Camp and warming up for Opening Day with all the fanfare surrounding it but with an empty stadium, it was definitely strange -- but one huge thing I take away from it is my preparation for that start was not up to par, not up to my standards,” said Giolito, who has fanned 325 over his last 249 innings. “I learned from that like as soon as I came out of that game.

“Like, 'Wow, what was I doing in the bullpen?' So now I know I've got to have my game speed in the bullpen, I've got to prepare, make sure my routine's on point, and the rest will take care of itself. Definitely took some stuff away from that one, for sure.”