WASHINGTON — With Lucas Giolito scheduled to make his first Major League start Tuesday against the Mets, the Nationals have done what little they can to temper expectations.
There’s only so much one can do to downplay the long awaited debut of baseball’s consensus top prospect, the Nats’ first-round pick in 2012 who has dazzled scouts since his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Giolito’s upper-90s fastball drew a rousing comparison from Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux.
“When we saw him throw on the side, he’s got a pretty good fastball,” Maddux told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Tuesday. “When he keeps the angle on it, it’s very similar to what we saw last night from the opponent in Noah Syndergaard. It’s very similar to that.”
It’s not only Giolito’s fastball, but the entirety of his three plus-pitch arsenal which has people anxiously anticipating his debut.
“He’s got a nice curve ball,” Maddux said. “And when he keeps that thing in the strike zone it’s an advantage to him. And then he also fires a changeup in there and I think we’ve all seen the success of changeups that we’ve had out of Max Scherzer, and Tanner Roark, and Stephen Strasburg — all have that really good changeup.
“Lucas saw them pitch and tried to mimic their arsenal in that respect and he’s very aggressive with the changeup. Those are three of the key components — he’s got three plus-pitches — and if we can keep those things sequenced and over the plate, we’re going to be just fine.”
It is a dream come true for any prospect to finally get the call up to the Major Leagues, but for high-round pitchers that sometimes comes with unfair expectations. Those may be especially cruel for Giolito, as the last homegrown first-round pitcher to debut in a Nats uniform was Stephen Strasburg, who struck out 14 batters, walked none while allowing only two runs in seven innings on June 8, 2010.
Joe Ross, who was drafted by the Padres, fared pretty well in his first three big league starts for the Nats, too, with a 2.66 ERA last June.
“Your Little League starts, your parents driving you to the ballpark — there’s just got to be something cool about ‘I’ve made it,'” Paulsen said. “And yet your work is really just getting going.”
“It’s surreal,” said Maddux, a former big league pitcher of 15 years. “Like I said, it’s going to happen so fast for Lucas. I really hope that we’re able to slow it down where he can savor the moment and goes late in the game. I hope he can take a slow walk off that mound to a standing ovation. That would be great, that would be the pipe dream.”
“In the interim we can’t put our sights there,” he said.That’s what we’re hoping for on the end result, but as long as we can use the old proverb of ‘one pitch at a time,’ because that’s all I can control is this one pitch and let’s do it right now. And as long as we keep those baby steps going and fill up the zone with those three pitches that he has, I think we’ll be okay.”
Maddux was also asked how an evaluator such as himself can look at Giolito and tell that he’s special.
“First off, you see his physical appearance: 6’6″ and whatever he is, 240, 250. He’s a big man,” he said. “He’s a child in a man’s body right now. And we just try to speed up that learning curve and that maturation process the best we can.
“And spring training, although it might be long for some people, it’s a blip for others, and I think in Lucas’ case, it went really fast. Started off the year and we were monitoring his innings knowing that we’d like to use some of those innings up here at the Major League level, so he comes up here fresh and ready to go.”