Right-hander Lucas Giolito is making good progress in his first full season of pro baseball with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals.
The Nationals’ top pitching prospect is 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in eight games for the GCL Nats. The 19-year-old has thrown back-to-back five inning starts.
He said that first start back from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on July 3 worked on the nerves a bit because of such a long layoff since high school baseball.
“It was a little weird at the start, I will admit that,” Giolito said. “I hadn’t pitched competitively in a real situation game in such a long time. So it was kind of like I had to get my bearings back. But as far as my last few starts, I have finally got in that rhythm I like to pitch at and feel comfortable on the mound.
“It has been close to two years of (not) pitching competitively. I did have one start last year when I hurt my elbow, (but) I like to not really count that one. It is feeling great so far, I am really pleased with the progress.”
Giolito came out of that start feeling good but also confident in the strength of his arm post-surgery because of all the mound sessions he had worked through in Viera, Fla., at parent team’s training facility with Nationals minor league pitching coordinator Mark Grater.
“I wouldn’t say that I was really nervous (about the arm),” Giolito said.” I had a lot of adrenalin going. I was really excited. I knew that my arm would hold up great. My arm is fine because there is so much throwing in the program before you get out in the open field. I had some of those jitters like, ‘Wow, I am really pitching in a game again.’ But I did have a lot of adrenaline and some of those pregame jitters.”
Giolito said he is throwing his fastball in the low to mid-90s, but is not worried about velocity and more focused on the importance of location.
“The fastball location is probably on the forefront, one of the first things to start coming back the way I really want it to,” he said. “Like being able to throw a first-pitch strike and throw it to the location I want to.
“The velocity is coming back pretty strong. I think I was actually throwing a little bit harder my first few games and am now settling into a more comfortable velocity that I don’t really need to like go out and throw 99 to 100 mph. I am more focused with getting ahead of batters and getting quick outs.”
Giolito, though, was very excited about his Aug. 13 start against the GCL Cardinals because of the effectiveness of his curveball and changeup.
“I would say my last game against the Cardinals was my first day when I could feel that the true tightness of my curveball (had) come back,” he said. “I have been throwing it and it has been good, but a couple of days really feel it and imagine throwing it right through the glove and throwing it for a strike and throwing it for a strike one that is tighter and faster. So that was good.
“The changeup, as well - the last game was when I really started to get that type of feel I had for it that I remember having a couple of years ago. Everything is coming back. It has been coming back slowly, but it has been feeling awesome.”
Giolito is also building his confidence in his pitches so that he can go after left-handers or right-handers in any situation. He has had to believe in his breaking stuff because he can’t always go to the fastball in obvious fastball counts like he might have been able to do back in high school.
“I feel comfortable to throw every pitch to every batter in every situation. I fell behind some batters 2-0, 2-1 and I was still throwing the changeup last game, which is something I never really had to do because in high school, you go 2-0 on a guy (and) you can throw a fastball right down the middle.
“You can’t do that here - they will jump right on it. Last game especially, I was kind of throwing the changeup later in the count when I am behind to get back ahead. It has been really effective. It doesn’t matter if they are a righty or a lefty.”
He also said that his arm is bouncing back well between starts and he is feeling no affects from the Tommy John surgery.
“It feels good,” Giolito said. “The only soreness I get is the normal, natural soreness that any pitcher will feel. So it is not like I will have achiness in my elbow. That is not there because it is brand new. It is feeling really good.
“Obviously, I am taking care my exercises, my weight lifting routine, shoulder program. I am hammering that out after I pitch and after I throw a bullpen to make sure that I stay healthy.”
With his success starting to gain momentum in rookie ball, is Giolito experiencing any impatience about moving up another level?
No, said Giolito, especially with a team that is dominating its league with a 41-6 record.
“It is playing out the way I want to,” Giolito said. “I am not going to complain about moving up or where I am in any situation, especially in the situation here where we are winning so many games and we have a great chance to win this whole thing and the record.
“It is all feel. These coaches and this staff have been through this type of thing with the Tommy John rehabilitation with so many players before me. I am not going to question what they want to do.”
In Giolito’s last start, he went five innings and threw 62 pitches. He said that will be the number of innings he would max out on per game for this season as he returns from Tommy John. Giolito’s next start is scheduled for Monday.
“Five innings, I believe, is the cap I would reach, even if I threw a bunch of five-pitch innings,” Giolito said. “Five innings is the ultimate cap this year and like 75 pitches or so, a pitch cap per game.”