Giolito's changeup guides him to 12 K's, win

May 31st, 2021

has, quite literally, changed up since he last faced the Orioles.

Back in 2018, while Giolito was on his way to AL-worst marks in walks and earned runs, he was tagged with a 13.50 ERA in two starts against Baltimore. In those outings, he threw a combined 14 changeups.

Now, the changeup is Giolito’s preferred offspeed offering, and he used it throughout a dazzling seven innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 win against the Orioles on Sunday. Giolito set season highs in strikeouts (12), whiffs (28) and whiff rate (51 percent) in the process; his changeup, drawing 16 whiffs, played a major role.

“I’m a different pitcher now than I was then,” Giolito said, thinking back. “A lot more confidence, obviously the mechanics are cleaned up since then. I’d say facing [Baltimore] now, it’s like night and day.”

For one thing, his changeup usage rate -- a mere 15.7 percent in 2018 -- had soared to 36.9 percent entering Sunday, which is the highest among MLB starters. He didn’t waste time using it against the Orioles, striking out Cedric Mullins and Freddy Galvis on changeups to open the first inning. Unlike Giolito’s mid-90s fastball, the changeup falls off the table with low-80s velocity from the same arm slot.

Giolito said the Orioles were taking a “fastball approach” from the jump, which allowed his changeup to coax plenty of leaning, front-footed swings. But changeups have their name for a reason; Giolito needs to elevate his fastball with command in order to make everything work.

“Hitters like hitting fastballs,” he said. “And it’s not like I’m gonna go out there and throw 20 percent fastballs in a start; I’m still gonna use it, and throw a lot of them.”

The only Oriole who might have figured out the changeup was Mullins, as he tripled and singled (via bunt) off that pitch in his next two at-bats. The bunt single, which came in the sixth, was followed by a pair of walks to give the Orioles a one-out, bases-loaded situation in a 1-1 game.

But Giolito bore down, throwing six changeups in his next seven pitches to induce a strikeout and a popup, escaping the threat unharmed.

“That’s on Zack [Collins], too,” Giolito said, crediting his catcher. “He called all those pitches. I don’t think I shook at all in that situation. He recognized that the changeup was working there, the fastball was a little iffy, and so we used the changeup to get out of it.”

Chicago’s offense gave Giolito the support he needed in the bottom of the seventh, stringing together three hits and scoring twice to break the tie. Nick Madrigal came through with an RBI triple, which was his second two-strike hit of the day and brought his two-strike average up to .320 this season.

“That young man does not throw an at-bat away, ever,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “And that’s to our benefit.”

The triple was specifically to Giolito’s benefit, too, as it put him in line for the win: a small token for a job well done.

Sunday’s win secured a four-game sweep, a 6-1 road trip and additional cushion in the American League Central over second-place Cleveland. The White Sox will now visit the Indians for an important series, starting with a doubleheader on Monday.

Thanks to Giolito’s seven strong innings on a day sandwiched between two twin bills, the White Sox bullpen is set up for success.

“He’s the first and biggest hero,” La Russa said. “Not only did we get the win, but [Giolito] got the win. Once in a while, there is justice.”