Giolito wants another crack at Opening Day

March 13th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The White Sox have a staff ace in , who threw four scoreless innings during a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Friday.

What they don’t have is a 2021 Opening Day starter. At least, not officially.

“We'll see, when the announcement's made, how it shakes out,” said Giolito during an in-game Zoom. “I'm sure the announcement will be coming in the next couple weeks or so.”

“Never too early to ask. It could be too early to answer,” said a smiling White Sox manager Tony La Russa prior to Giolito’s start. “Make it official? It won’t be long. But I think speculating is part of the fun of the game. You can speculate as much as you want. But we’ll make it official pretty soon.”

Giolito will get the Opening Day nod, or it will be a surprise along the level of the White Sox not fielding a contender this season. That nod could come as soon as St. Patrick’s Day, when the right-hander is next scheduled to start. He has not only been the best starter on the White Sox staff over the last two seasons, but one of the best starters in the game during that time.

See Giolito’s no-hitter thrown against the Pirates last season, or his six perfect innings tossed against the A’s in Game 1 of a 2020 American League Wild Card Series, as examples. He’s constantly working at and refining his craft, such as on Friday, when his goal was to throw sliders against left-handed hitters (and the Rangers obliging with five switch-hitters or lefties in the lineup).

Five strikeouts and one walk later -- including whiffs of lefties David Dahl and Joey Gallo -- and mission accomplished for Giolito.

“Spring Training, to a certain degree, I'm preparing for the season, and I want to bring a high level of intensity and energy and compete,” Giolito said. “But at the same time, there's a few things in the back of my mind I want to work on, and we were able to do that today by throwing a lot of sliders, especially to lefties.

“I'd say there was a good mix of really good sliders that were staying above the dirt line and a few that I got a little short on and pulled into the dirt. But more learning experience.

“For me, having that third pitch that goes the other way, I don't need to be too fine with it. I just need to throw it over the plate and make it competitive. That's the goal, to keep going with it, keep getting better and better feel for it so I'm prepared for the season with it.”

It would be Giolito’s second straight Opening Day nod, making him the first White Sox right-hander to earn such an honor since Jaime Navarro in 1997-98. He embraces such a challenge, setting the tone for what should be a very promising 2021 campaign, starting with a contest against the Angels in Anaheim on April 1.

“Absolutely. I want the ball. I want to go deep. That's what I'm all about,” Giolito said. “It would be great if I get that opportunity. It was a huge honor. To earn that job after one good season, I was very, very appreciative.

“Unfortunately, that Opening Day start didn't go my way. But I definitely learned a lot from that, making sure I'm much more well prepared going into that.”

Minnesota right fielder Max Kepler homered on the first pitch offered by Giolito to start the 2020 season, leading to seven runs allowed on six hits in 3 2/3 innings during a 10-5 loss to the eventual AL Central champions. It was a learning experience, as Giolito said, much like everything he has done since transforming into a true top-of-the-rotation performer.

His confidence matches his ability, with a plan of attack to go with his repertoire helping him combat any level of adversity.

“I've put in a lot of work to build the muscle memory to the point where I go out in a game and I don't have any doubts or questions about throwing strikes or being competitive,” Giolito said. “Today was a good example. My pregame bullpen, I'm all over the place, I have no feel for my body. But I have that feeling within that it doesn't matter.

“When it comes time to get on that game mound to take the ball, I know what I need to do to be successful. I've put in the preparation. That's the biggest thing. The difference from a few years ago to now is I'm less worried about the external and more focused on everything I need to do to prepare to the point where I know I'm ready to go, no matter how I'm feeling.”