CHICAGO — Lucas Giolito spent last week working in Los Angeles with Ethan Katz, which is nothing out of the ordinary during the offseason for the White Sox ace.
But when Giolito returned home, the right-hander realized again how that working relationship has changed with the new White Sox pitching coach going into the 2021 season.
“We are not doing anything different than we’ve done before,” Giolito told MLB.com during a recent phone conversation. “But it’s like, last week, we threw a bullpen, and afterward, I was like ‘All right. Cool. I’m glad I was able to come down here and work with you.’
“Then it was, ‘Oh wait, actually I’ll be working with you all year.’ I almost forgot for a second.”
Katz is in the first year as the White Sox pitching coach, but he has worked with Giolito since the hurler was learning his craft as a high school pitcher at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. Katz’s presence becomes another in a long list of reasons why Giolito is primed for a third consecutive strong season at the top of the White Sox starting rotation.
Their work last week focused upon refining Giolito’s high fastball command and finding a consistent shape to his slider, a pitch Giolito has been very pleased with this offseason. If Giolito misses with that slider, he wants to miss in a good spot.
But the duo has also been working on a new pitch Giolito refers to as the “downer.” That name doesn’t emanate from a plan for hitters’ dejected reactions after they swing and miss against it, but more because the pitch is a modified curve with the potential to be added to his repertoire.
“It’s like a 12-6 curveball, but it just goes down,” Giolito said. “It comes out of my hand almost like a slider variant. It’s hard to give it a real true name like curveball or slider. But the whole idea of it is it comes out on my fastball plane and then just goes down kind of later, whereas my slider is a little more right to left with that downward action. This one is more like out of the hand fastball plane, straight down late.
“I feel very confident being a three-pitch starting pitcher, considering the last two years I had starts where I was a two-pitch starting pitcher. I kind of want to up the ante to have it a consistent three pitches, and then I’m going to continue to work on this other one.”
Pitching 200 innings ranks as a primary goal in 2021 for Giolito, who quipped that new teammate Lance Lynn can show him the ropes after having surpassed that three times in his career. Giolito doesn’t seem worried about jumping from 72 1/3 innings during the abbreviated ’20 campaign, pointing out the live bullpens he threw during the quarantine shutdown prior to the Summer Camp restart as bulk to his workload.
Giolito already has thrown six or seven bullpens this offseason. He has further refined a routine helping him reach a level of mound comfort, but certainly not a level near total satisfaction.
“A big thing about being great in this league — and this is like conversations I’ve had with big-time names, veteran guys — you can never ever be complacent,” Giolito said. “Never be satisfied with where you are at and what you are doing.
“What can get better? And so that’s always kind of on the front of my mind. Like, OK, I had a good year, but what can be better? What do I need to be more consistent with?’ You always have something to work toward and something that you can kind of add to that level of preparation, so you are even more ready to go.”
Preparation is the key for Giolito. Regardless of the importance of a start, he trusts the work done in those four days prior will have him ready. He now has an old friend and mentor in Katz to oversee the process.
“I’ve been most excited about the work [Katz has] been putting in with all the other guys,” Giolito said. “Some of the younger arms, he’s really been communicating well, communicating efficiently, a lot of back and forth from him with all the pitchers on our team. So, I’m excited to see some of our guys take some nice steps forward this year.”
“To see where [Giolito is] at now is simply impressive, and he’s become certainly a model for younger players,” said Chris Getz, the White Sox assistant general manager/player development. “A high-profile guy that went through some struggles but continued to stay focused and continued to work, and now look at him as one of the better pitchers in the Major Leagues.”