Gi­olito’s rep­u­ta­tion on dra­matic de­cline

Once un­touch­able, top prospect in­cluded in trade pack­age for Ea­ton

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Mark it down: Dec. 7, 2016, the un­touch­able was jet­ti­soned.

Lu­cas Gi­olito’s mas­sive frame and now-in­ques­tion po­ten­tial were traded to the Chicago White Sox on Wed­nes­day for an out­fielder nick­named “Spanky” who is an ad­vanced-met­ric dar­ling, but hardly an in­spir­ing ac­qui­si­tion.

To show how far Gi­olito’s pitch­ing rep­u­ta­tion has fallen in a year, he alone was not enough to ob­tain Adam Ea­ton, who has never had more than an .800 OPS. Two other top prospect pitch­ers, Rey­naldo Lopez and Dane Dun­ning, a first-round Wash­ing­ton pick in 2016, had to be pack­aged with Gi­olito.

“I think the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor to do a deal that in­cluded Lu­cas was the player that we got in re­turn,” Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo told re­porters. “It was some­thing that fit for us well. We liked, again, the flex­i­bil­ity of the con­tract and the con­trol of the player and the player it­self.

“The an­a­lyt­i­cal side of it was very, very pos­i­tive. Our scouts loved him, loved the way he played. I

think he brings a good pack­age to the ball club.”

Just a sea­son and 21 in­nings in the big leagues had passed since Gi­olito was deemed un­avail­able by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In the mid­dle of 2015, Wash­ing­ton’s hard­line stance ap­peared war­ranted. Gi­olito started the All-Star Fu­tures Game for the U.S. side. He pitched two score­less in­nings. His fast­ball whirred, de­liv­ered with a quick arm ac­tion by a 6-foot-6, 20-year-old Cal­i­for­nia kid.

Gi­olito had a shin­ing de­meanor to go with his stuff. Raised by par­ents long in­volved with Hol­ly­wood, Gi­olito was un­fazed by cam­eras or pres­sure cir­cum­stances. He was com­fort­able, thought­ful and funny in front of the me­dia.

Those traits were dis­played last Fe­bru­ary in Viera, Florida, when Gi­olito spent spring train­ing on the ma­jor league side for the first time. He tried to stay out of the way, not want­ing to dis­rupt prepa­ra­tion time for the vet­er­ans.

Gi­olito was also a thirsty learner, lis­ten­ing to pitch­ing el­ders like Max Scherzer and Stephen Stras­burg. His so­cial me­dia ac­counts re­flected his age. He and mi­nor league catcher Spencer Kieboom cre­ated a va­ri­ety of desserts in their townhouse kitchen, then shared the re­sults. It was clear both should stick to base­ball.

At spring train­ing, Gi­olito tus­sled with his emo­tions, even when go­ing through drills. The first day he was on a mound, stand­ing atop the pile of dirt clos­est to fans and on­look­ers, he would sigh loudly if he missed his spot. Asked about it after­ward, he said, “I have to stop do­ing that.”

Gi­olito’s ma­jor league de­but be­came as trun­cated as his Wash­ing­ton ca­reer.

On June 28, he was rolling against the ri­val New York Mets. Four in­nings, one hit, no runs. Rain de­layed the start, forc­ing Gi­olito into man­ager Dusty Baker’s of­fice mul­ti­ple times to ask when the game would be­gin. Then, rain ended his start when the game stalled again. In­stead of the first flash of prom­ise, Gi­olito’s de­but be­came an out­lier: a suc­cess­ful day in the ma­jor leagues. He would not have another.

In five more games, he would never pitch more than five in­nings. He would never al­low fewer than two runs. The num­bers by the end of the sea­son were trou­bling. Gi­olito walked more peo­ple than he struck out. His ERA was a gar­gan­tuan 6.75. His WHIP 1.78. Op­po­nents hit .295 against him; they swung at and missed strikes just 6.3 per­cent of the time. He couldn’t fool hit­ters. He also could not throw the base­ball by them.

Gi­olito felt like his me­chan­ics were off-kil­ter. Not only was his lo­ca­tion poor, but his sec­ondary pitches lacked ac­tion and his vaunted fast­ball lost speed. Ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs, his fast­ball trav­eled just 93 mph on av­er­age. That’s a touch ahead of Tan­ner Roark, who re­lies on tail­ing move­ment at that speed. The pitch Bryce Harper had joked was de­liv­ered at a “bil­lion” mph was now just straight and in­ef­fec­tive.

“I can pitch at 93 if I’m hit­ting my spots and mix­ing up well,” Gi­olito said then. “I think I left way too many fast­balls up over the mid­dle of the plate. Those are the ones that got hit pretty hard. The ve­loc­ity I don’t think is a huge deal as long as I am pitch­ing the way I should be pitch­ing.”

Op­po­nents no­ticed the drop. “The re­ports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97,” said Colorado Rockies star Nolan Are­nado af­ter fac­ing Gi­olito. “Those are the re­ports we saw and on video. It wasn’t that.”

Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker no­ticed, too.

“We haven’t seen it yet at the ma­jor league level,” Baker said of the ve­loc­ity. “His fast­ball is rel­a­tively straight.”

All that af­ter Gi­olito changed his me­chan­ics in July. He short­ened his windup in pur­suit of bet­ter bal­ance, drop­ping a step back in fa­vor of po­si­tion­ing that made him start his de­liv­ery al­most from the stretch po­si­tion. To see a young pitcher make an al­ter­ation was one thing. To hear Gi­olito say the de­ci­sion how to change was about 90 per­cent his, the rest left to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, was strange. Base­ball’s top pitch­ing prospect had de­cided to al­ter his de­liv­ery on his own.

Late in the sum­mer, Gi­olito went up the bus ramp just out­side the Na­tion­als’ club­house en­trance. He and Scherzer were head­ing out into the heat for a run. Scherzer could ex­plain to Gi­olito how he strug­gled at first in the ma­jor leagues, prompt­ing the team that drafted him to trade him away. How he never for­got that les­son in bit­ter­ness and busi­ness, then used it as another shovel of coal in his fur­nace. How, in the end, he won the Cy Young Award while with the team he was traded to and was still stirred by the trade eight years later when back in the same league as the team that dis­carded him.

Gi­olito could be­come that les­son now. He has this chance be­cause his first ef­fort in the ma­jor leagues flopped, the dis­mal re­sults driv­ing his sud­den shift from of­flim­its to out the door.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Just 21 in­nings in the ma­jors had passed since pitcher Lu­cas Gi­olito was deemed un­touch­able by the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als. On Wed­nes­day, the de­clin­ing value of the for­mer Na­tion­als prospect was ev­i­dent as he was shipped as part, not the cen­ter­piece, of a three-player pack­age, to the Chicago White Sox to ac­quire out­fielder Adam Ea­ton.

The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als ob­tained an ad­vanced-met­ric dar­ling in Chicago White Sox out­fielder Adam Ea­ton.

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