No-hitter proof Lucas Giolito an ace you don’t want to face in October

So many MLB no-hit bids end one out away from fame and glory. Maybe the pitcher tightens up. Maybe his luck runs out. Maybe the batter just hits a good pitch. It appeared Lucas Giolito’s luck for the Chicago White Sox ended on his 101st pitch on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates when Erik Gonzalez lined an 0-2 fastball to right field.

“That last one, man … oh my god,” Giolito said after the game. “(I threw it) right down the middle. … Right off the bat I saw hard contact, I saw line drive, I thought, ‘Ahh, man, I’m going to be that guy. I’m going to give it up on an 0-2 count with two outs. Luckily we have one of the best outfielders in the game playing right field.”

It looked like a sure hit, a low 102 mph screamer. Indeed, it had an 85% hit probability, the highest of any ball in play hit off Giolito in the game. But right fielder Adam Engel was shaded in and towards the line, got a good read on the play and plucked the ball off the tops of his shoes to finish off the first no-hitter of the season and the 19th in White Sox history.

“There’s always one out in a no-hitter,” Giolito said. “I guess that was the one.”

It was the most dominant no-hitter in White Sox history — and that’s saying something because only the Dodgers have thrown more. Giolito finished with 13 strikeouts, the first White Sox pitcher to record double digits in a no-hitter. His Game Score of 99 is the highest in franchise history for a nine-inning game and the highest since Wilbur Wood also put up a 99 while throwing an 11-inning shutout in 1974.

Before that final out, shortstop Tim Anderson had preserved the no-hitter in the top of the seventh with a nice play on Bryan Reynolds’ two-hopper up the middle. Shifted over to the right side of second base for the left-handed Reynolds, Anderson ranged back to the shortstop side of the bag and made a nice off-balance throw to nip the speedy Reynolds, with first baseman Jose Abreu digging the ball out of the dirt.

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After the third out of that inning, Giolito admitted that’s when he started thinking about the no-hitter. “After the seventh, alright, six more outs to go, looking at who I was facing, it became very, very possible,” he said.

Despite all the strikeouts, his pitch count remained low and was a non-factor. He gave credit to catcher James McCann, saying he shook him off just once all night. Working quickly, he cruised through the eighth with two strikeouts and a foul pop-up to first base. He fell behind Jarrod Dyson leading off the ninth with two balls, but then got three strikes, including two swinging on his changeup. Jose Osuna fouled out to right field on a 1-2 slider and then Gonzalez swung and missed at two sliders before Giolito tried to power a fastball past him.

Of course, there were no fans at Guaranteed Rate Field to cheer Giolito on. “They turned up the crowd noise,” he laughed during a postgame interview with MLB Network. “It felt like every single inning the crowd noise got louder. By the ninth inning the crowd noise got crazy. It felt like there were 35,000 people here.”


Lucas Giolito gets Erik Gonzalez to line out to right field to finish off his no-hitter as the White Sox beat the Pirates 4-0.

There were a lot of swings and misses in this game for Giolito — 30 of them, the second most in any no-hitter since 1990 (Nolan Ryan had 31) and the most for a White Sox pitcher in any game of the pitch-tracking era (since 1988), topping Chris Sale’s best of 29.

As Jeff Passan tweeted, “Lucas Giolito is a baaaaaad man.” Do you want to face him in the first game of a best-of-three series? After allowing seven runs on Opening Day, he’s now 3-2 with a 3.09 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 43 ⅔ innings and a .180 batting average allowed.

It’s been quite the turnaround from 2018. That was his first full season in the majors, his second with the White Sox since coming over from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade, and it was not a pretty season. Giolito finished 10-13 with a 6.13 ERA, the worst ERA among qualifiers. He allowed the most earned runs and the most walks in the American League, hit 15 batters and averaged just 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings. For a pitcher some analysts had once regarded as the best pitching prospect in the minors it was a disappointing season, the type of results that can ruin a young pitcher.

But Giolito came back in 2019 much stronger and throwing harder — and that seemed to give him a lot more confidence. His four-seamer averaged 92.4 mph in 2018, but was up to 94.2 in with 2019, with a higher spin rate as well. Opponents had rocked the four-seamer in 2018 with a .524 slugging percentage, but hit just .203 with a .364 slugging percentage in 2019. He made the All-Star team and finished 14-9 with a 3.41. His strikeout rate leaped from 6.5 per nine to 11.6.

He made a couple other key adjustments. He ditched his sinker and started throwing his changeup a lot more. That pitch had been effective for him in 2018, but he increased its usage from 15.7% to 26.2%. He’s throwing it even more in 2020 — 34.4% of the time. In some ways, the changeup is his best pitch. He still has a wipeout he uses to put away right-handed batters, but the changeup makes his fastball even better.

In an interview with MLB Network on Monday, Giolito said he learned the changeup while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery after the Nationals drafted him 2012, just fooling around with different grips. Giolito fell to the 16th overall pick because of that injury, but after a big season at A-ball in 2014, he became a top prospect and made his debut with the Nationals in 2016. Even though he struggled in that initial big league stint, it was a surprise when the club included him in the Eaton deal.

Obviously, the deal worked for the Nationals, with Eaton played an important role in their World Series. It’s also worked out very well for the White Sox.

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