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Washington Nationals call top prospect Lucas Giolito up to face New York Mets in D.C.

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Washington Nationals' prospect Lucas Giolito was called up this afternoon and he'll face the New York Mets tonight in his MLB debut. The 2012 Nats' 1st Round pick is one of the top-ranked pitchers in baseball. How will he handle the hype?

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Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Lucas Giolito has taken the mound in 67 games (65 of them starts) as a professional, with 66 of the appearances and 64 of the starts coming after the now-21-year-old right-hander had Tommy John surgery in 2012.

Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo knew the risks when he selected Giolito, a potential No. 1 overall pick before he injured his elbow, with the 16th pick in the first round of the 2012 Draft.

"He's a big physical kid that comes from a really tough angle to hit. He's got great velocity. He's got good spin on the breaking ball. He's got good poise and demeanor on the mound." -Mike Rizzo on Nationals' prospect Lucas Giolito

Giolito injured the elbow in his senior year at Harvard Westlake High School in Los Angeles, CA, and the Nats knew he would likely need surgery, but as Rizzo explained yesterday, after announcing that the right-hander will make his MLB debut tonight, the Nationals did their due diligence before making the selection.

"We did our homework on him and the makeup of the player first of all," Rizzo said.

"We scouted him extensively before the draft. Knowing that he was going to have Tommy John soon after we drafted and signed him was an issue that we had to think about.

"We had to weigh the risk with the rewards and we felt that the rewards outweighed the risks."

Through five minor league seasons (four-plus really), the top-rated right-handed pitching prospect on just about every prospect list there is, has put up a 2.74 ERA with 113 walks (3.13 BB/9) and 353 Ks (9.79 K/9) in 324 ⅔ IP.

Tonight, he'll make his first start in the majors, against the New York Mets.

"He's ready for the task," Dusty Baker told reporters before Monday's series opener with the Nationals' NL East rivals.

Rizzo agreed when he spoke to reporters in the nation's capital yesterday.

"He's got a pretty good professional package," Rizzo said.

"He's a big physical kid that comes from a really tough angle to hit. He's got great velocity. He's got good spin on the breaking ball. He's got good poise and demeanor on the mound.

"He keeps the ball around the strike zone, and he can throw strikes with three pitches. So it's a good pitching package and we felt all along that all he needed was seasoning and time in the minor leagues and we felt that he's progressed enough to give him a shot."

Stephen Strasburg's "upper back injury" brought about the need for a starter at the major league level, and the Nats' decided that Giolito would get the opportunity.

"We really trust our guys in the minor leagues to prepare these guys to pitch and to play in the big leagues for us when they get here," Rizzo said, when asked about making the decision.

"When they tell me a guy is ready, I trust that all the work has been put in and that he's going to be well-rounded and able to do all facets of the game. In his case, all the facets of being a major league starting pitcher. I trust that they've developed him the right way and that he's prepared to take the next step.

"When they say he's the guy who should start against the Mets, we take him and we go with it.

"We figured he gave us the best option to win the game tomorrow. He's our No. 1 prospect. We like the way he's developed. We think he'll do well and give us a chance to win."

Baker told reporters he wouldn't worry too much about preparing Giolito for the start, and would instead just let him do his thing out on the mound.

"We figured he gave us the best option to win the game tomorrow. He's our No. 1 prospect. We like the way he's developed. We think he'll do well and give us a chance to win." -Mike Rizzo on Nationals' prospect Lucas Giolito making his MLB debut

"I try to let them all be themselves," he said. "Because you put too many thoughts in their head and I mean, you try to make it as if it's just another game when it's really not.

"You've got to try to pretend that it's just another game whether you're playing at Nationals Park here, or you're playing in your hometown field, because once the first pitch is thrown it is another game.

"You've got higher stakes, more people, but you have to put all those things out of your mind and realize that you just have to concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate, throwing to your catcher, following his lead and game plan, because there's a good chance he knows more about the opposition than you do."

Having brought up highly-regarded and hyped prospects like Strasburg and Bryce Harper over the years since he took over as the GM in D.C., Rizzo talked about the excitement surrounding Giolito's debut, though he said it wouldn't affect the right-hander.

"He's not feeling the hype," Rizzo said. "It's not going to be another day at the office for him because there's going to be a second deck on the stadium that he pitches in this time, but he's a confident kid that I think will handle the pressure of his major league debut against a really good team like the New York Mets in stride and give us a chance to win the baseball game."

It's been a relatively quick rise through the ranks, especially considering he missed a season's worth of starts following Tommy John, but the Nationals clearly think Giolito is ready.

"From the time we drafted him and signed him, then the year off with Tommy John surgery, we've seen the kid that has physically progressed, both maturity-wise, with his body," Rizzo explained.

"He's always been a professional attitude type of player, even as a young minor leaguer.

"He's very poised and confident. A guy with great stuff. He works extremely hard, in preparation for his starts, physically and game preparation. So I don't think that he'll be overwhelmed in the situation."

Will it be a one-start situation if Strasburg is able to return to the rotation? Neither Baker or Rizzo were willing to commit to anything beyond tonight's debut.

"We're going to take it start by start," Rizzo said, "depending on our need and when we need a starter and we're just going to take it start by start."

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