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First timers Giolito, McCann join Abreu at ASG

July 9, 2019

When James McCann caught Lucas Giolito’s first sideline back around Valentine’s Day during White Sox Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz., he provided detailed information that said as much about the organization’s new catcher as the restructured ace hurler. “Afterward he came up to us and was like, ‘Hey, something's different

When James McCann caught Lucas Giolito’s first sideline back around Valentine’s Day during White Sox Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz., he provided detailed information that said as much about the organization’s new catcher as the restructured ace hurler.

“Afterward he came up to us and was like, ‘Hey, something's different here. I faced this kid in the past and this is different,’” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of that first session. “He broke down a couple things specifically that he saw as the transformation of Lucas.

All-Star Game presented by Mastercard: Tonight, 6:30 p.m. CT on FOX

“That was a great conversation to have. Obviously, we saw with our eyes a little bit different in terms of what Lucas was trying to do.”

“That first bullpen, I remember telling him, ‘You’ve got different stuff this year than you did last year,’” McCann recalled Monday in Cleveland. “I knew just from catching him his fastball had more life, his breaking balls were sharper, everything was crisper. … As a hitter, even though he was throwing 94-95, the ball never felt like it was jumping on me. Now, it does.”

And now we can call this specific February session the beginning of an important All-Star relationship.

Giolito, 24, and McCann, 29, will be making their first All-Star appearance tonight at Progressive Field in Cleveland. José Abreu joins his teammates in a third All-Star appearance and second straight.

“To share this experience with him is very special. Sharing it with Abreu is special,” McCann said. “Sharing it with a guy like Verlander, who I caught, or a guy like J.D. Martinez, who I played with, that’s all special.

“But sharing it with Lucas is a different kind of special -- one, because of the relationship we’ve built this year. But also, he’s got a similar story. He had a down year last year, not a lot of positive coverage, made the necessary adjustments and became an All-Star pitcher. Similar story for me. So to be able to share this stage and share that success after the failures together, that’s pretty neat.”

It would seem almost fitting if Giolito throws to McCann for the American League during the game, since their first-half success has been symbiotic. But McCann, whose preparation and game-calling has been praised by the entire pitching staff beyond Giolito, is focused primarily on his pitcher, as he has been all season.

“That would be a lot of fun, but we talked about it, and I just can’t wait to see him take the mound knowing the hard work he’s put in, his determination and dedication,” McCann said of potentially catching Giolito in the Midsummer Classic. “He deserves every bit of the accolade of being an All-Star. Whether I’m behind the plate or in the dugout watching, I’ll have a big smile on my face.”

The same smile will be there for Giolito, who has jumped from the highest ERA in baseball and the highest AL walk total in 2018 to an 11-3 record, 3.15 ERA, two complete games and 120 strikeouts against 38 walks over 100 innings covering 17 starts. Two rough starts against the Cubs, where he allowed 12 of his 35 earned runs this season, have elevated that ERA in his last four trips to the mound, but it’s not anything worrying the ultra-focused Giolito.

“This is a real honor to be selected in the All-Star Game,” Giolito said Monday. “For me, after the year I had last year, it wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be an All-Star next year.’ I just wanted to get better and pitch the way I knew that I could. For me, this kind of shows that if you put in the work and you dedicate yourself to something and you have confidence that you’re going to figure it out no matter what you’re facing, you’re going to be able to achieve that.

“The biggest thing I did was really change the way I was thinking,” Giolito continued. “The mental side, they talk about how baseball is 90 percent mental or whatever. I never really knew that until I experienced what I experienced last year, the failure I experienced last year.”

Behind a surprising 42-44 first-half record, the White Sox seem to have developed a frontline starter to work with the likes of Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease. They have a hard-working veteran behind the plate in McCann, who has another year of contractual control after this one and has slashed .316/.371/.502 to go with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 30 RBIs.

And then there’s Abreu, the constant on this team for the past six years. When healthy, which pretty much covers all but the end of last season, he is one of the steadier middle-of-the-order producers in the game. He has endured five losing seasons but would like to stay a part of the team as this rebuild gradually moves into the contending stage.

Abreu becomes a free agent after the ’19 campaign and has meant more to his organization than can be quantified through All-Star numbers, including a .278 average, 21 homers and 66 RBIs in ’19.

“He’s been like a father to me. He gives me the advice. He always tries to help me,” rookie left fielder Eloy Jimenez said of Abreu. “And when you find people like that, you don’t know how to explain how great those people are.”

“It’s a blessing to be able to play with him and watch the way he goes about his business,” McCann added. “He’s not your typical superstar, flashy let you know about it. He’s a guy who goes about his business quietly. He works extremely hard. Easy to say about the stuff on the field, but the stuff behind the scenes that the everyday typical fan doesn’t really know, it’s pretty impressive.”