Lucas Giolito described coming out on the winning side of Tuesday night’s 12-8 extra innings thriller as “surreal”. Surreal because, in his eyes, he hadn’t gotten the job done. It was an honest appraisal of his performance. He had allowed seven runs over just five innings of work to a team that is currently situated in last place in the NL Central.
These types of performances are no longer rare or surprising from Giolito. But Tuesday night felt different, like maybe it was rock bottom of his two-year-long spiral from the top of the baseball prospect world. This year was supposed to be Giolito’s breakout campaign: where he stopped his decreasing fastball velocity (down over two miles per hour since 2016) and found control and confidence on the mound.
So far none of that has happened. His ERA sits at 6.59, his walks per nine innings sits at 5.42 and his average fastball velocity is the lowest it’s ever been at 92. Giolito can’t seem to stop the downward trend of his career, and with Tuesday’s loss, hope falters that Giolito will ever be able to turn it around.
There have been flashes this season. Flashes of the pitcher scouts saw in Giolito back when he was the consensus top pitching prospect in all of baseball. After his call-up to the majors last season, Giolito appeared as though he may still be a star. In just seven appearances, Giolito managed to win three games with an ERA of 2.38. There have even been games this year where it appeared he may have turned a corner. Just last week Giolito turned in perhaps the strongest performance of his career, a six inning, four hit, one run game. Now here we stand with last week’s highlight seemingly an aberration.
So can Giolito return to the mountaintop? Probably not. Can he return to a place where he is still a valuable middle of the rotation starter for this White Sox team? That remains to be seen. His career has been that of a fading star. That trend has continued this year, and with every passing start it appears it won’t stop anytime soon. Every game something else goes wrong for Lucas, whether it’s his mechanics, his pitches or just his mental makeup. He seems unable to put it together consistently.
Yes, he’s an extremely young player. Yes, he has yet to pitch a full seasons worth of baseball in his career. But his situation feels different from those of other struggling young players.
It feels like one where all the things that are said about other struggling prospects is not the same for Giolito. Time and good coaching will not be the magical solution to all of his problems. His fellow trade pieces have both enjoyed great success since coming into the White Sox organization, with Reynaldo Lopez solidifying himself as a key rotation cog, and Dane Dunning emerging as one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the White Sox system. Yet Giolito continues to fade.
Perhaps he will put together a string of solid starts that renew some faith in young Giolito. Maybe the start in Cincinnati will shake something loose and he will finally turn it all around. But so far, this season has just provided more and more evidence that Giolito will never be the player that fans and scouts hoped he would become.
So what is next for Giolito then? Likely a trip back to the minors at some point, assuming he cannot start stringing together more quality starts. After that? It’s hard to say. Unlike Carson Fulmer, he no longer possesses the kind of pitch repertoire required to become a consistent bullpen arm. Unlike Lopez, Giolito seemingly lacks the mental makeup required to push through prolonged struggles.
So while fans, coaches and teammates alike will all continue rooting for Giolito to improve and make these struggles a thing of the past, it feels like with every start Giolito just pitches himself one step closer to rock bottom, assuming he isn’t there already.
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