In six starts for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs this season, before coming up to start against Colorado in Washington, D.C. today, top Nationals’ pitching prospect Lucas Giolito went (1-2) with a 2.76 ERA and 35 Ks (10.74 K/9) in 29 ⅓ innings pitched.
He struggled to locate his secondary stuff in his first three major league starts before this afternoon’s outing, allowing hitters to key in on his 93-94 mph fastball, which has hit 95+ at times.
Dusty Baker talked to Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos after pulling Giolito from his third major league outing last month about what was hurting the 22-year-old hurler.
“[Ramos] said [Giolito] couldn't get his secondary pitches over,” Baker told reporters.
“His curveball and his changeup, so he was really down to one pitch, and you either have to have tremendous gas or you have to be able to locate to the max.”
Giolito was not locating his fastball particularly well either, something Nationals’ pitching coach Mike Maddux said was a focus once he returned to Triple-A.
Giolito struggled with his command again early this afternoon, giving up two hits, a walk and a run in a 24-pitch, 15-strike first against the Rockies, but he settled in and retired seven straight between the first and third before running into trouble again with two down in the third inning.
Carlos Gonzalez singled to center on a two-strike pitch and Nolan Arenado homered in the next at bat, lining an 0-2 heater to left for a two-run shot which was followed by a solo shot to left-center by David Dahl, who jumped on a first-pitch fastball and hit it out the other way, making it 4-1 Rockies after two and a half.
That’s all he gave up through five innings, in which he threw a total of 100 pitches.
Lucas Giolito’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 2 HRs, 100 P, 64 S, 5/5 GO/FO.
It was a shaky first and “one bad inning” out of his other four on the mound that caused Giolito’s problems.
“Usually it’s that one bad inning that does you in,” Dusty Baker told reporters after what ended up a 5-3 loss.
“Most of the time, the other team scores more in one inning than you do in the rest of the game, and then today, he had Arenado 0-2 and then was trying to get a ball in a place that he didn’t get it in, and it was right down the middle and then the next batter, Dahl, came up and deposited it in the left-center field. That was that one bad inning.
Arenado on Giolito: 'The reports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97... It wasn't that. It doesn't matter... not a comfortable AB'— Chase Hughes (@chasehughesCSN) August 28, 2016
“He threw the ball better than he had been in previous times, but his pitch count got high in hurry and we had to go get him.”
Giolito threw his fastball 71 times, 46 of them for strikes (64.8%) and generated just four swings and misses on the 35 the Rockies offered at.
He mixed in 14 changeups (8 for strikes, 57.1%) and got seven swings and three misses and 15 curveballs (10 for strikes, 66.7%) got one swing and miss.
Asked about the importance of his working his changeup into the mix, something that Maddux said Giolito had focused on, Baker said it could make a difference.
“That third pitch, and he was getting it over better today than he had been in the past, his breaking ball and his [changeup], but they didn’t miss his fastball. That was the key.
“And the two home runs were fastballs and they were centering his fastball most of the day even though we had them played properly.”
Baker was also asked about the fact that all the damage in the third came in a quick sequence in which he threw a string of fastballs to Gonzalez, Arenado and Dahl.
“I’m not going to second-guess [Ramos],” Baker said referring to the pitch selection.
“But if he had thrown the fastball where he wanted to, then we probably wouldn’t be talking about this because his fastball is in the heart of the plate, and if you locate that fastball [well], then you shouldn’t have to throw that many changeups, if it’s well-located, but it wasn’t.”
As for any concerns about the fact that Giolito isn’t generating the swings and misses he has in the minors, Baker said that he hasn’t “yet”.
“We haven’t seen it yet, at the major league level. His fastball is relatively straight, so you’ve got to locate it well and hopefully he’ll get better.”