KANSAS CITY — Lucas Giolito walked Whit Merrifield on four pitches to open up a 6-3 victory for the White Sox over the Royals on Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. Not exactly a good omen for a pitcher who topped the American League in free passes issued last season.
But in this instance, one wild batter couldn’t spoil a dominant performance.
Giolito retired the next 19 batters he faced, carrying a no-hitter one out into the seventh before Alex Gordon lined a clean single to center on a 2-2 curve after fouling off four straight pitches. The right-hander exited after allowing two runs on three hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight and walking just Merrifield. He also couldn’t avoid thinking about the no-hitter as the game progressed.
“The fans were screaming it out in the fifth inning so there’s no way not to,” Giolito said. “I wasn’t like actively thinking about it when I was pitching.”
“From the first inning we knew he had good stuff,” said White Sox first baseman Yonder Alonso, who homered, drove in three and reached base four times in his first 2019 start in the field. “He was working fast, he was getting some quick innings. We knew we had a chance.”
Alonso kept that no-hit chance alive with a lunging grab of Billy Hamilton’s one-out line drive in the sixth. But Giolito credited catcher James McCann with keeping him on track.
“Mac was unreal back there,” Giolito said. “Just the sequencing, I didn’t have to think at all. I was out there just executing pitches, really, really good pace and yeah, it ended up being a good one.”
“It didn’t start off that great with the four-pitch walk,” McCann said. “But immediately after that he kicked into gear and we got on the same page. He only shook once, and it was late in the game. He had all his pitches working today. He was locating his pitches. He was really good.”
Giolito’s fastball topped out at 95.1 mph and his changeup was mesmerizing in the 40 degree weather in Kansas City. Giolito recorded 15 swinging strikes, per Statcast, with seven coming off the fastball, four off the change and four off the slider.
This offseason was a time to reboot for Giolito, who not only altered the arm path on his delivery but also changed his mound approach after posting a 6.13 ERA over 32 starts in ’18. One or two walks, or one or two hits, was not going to disrupt his plan. That change in focus was evident from pitch No. 5 of Sunday’s series finale.
“Just didn’t have good feel the first four pitches,” said Giolito, who won for the first time since Aug. 25, 2018. “It didn’t really affect anything, so I was like, ‘All right. It is what it is. Just move on and let’s get these next guys out.’ Just having that mentality, simplifying things makes it a lot easier.
“With the arm action shorter, it feels better,” added Giolito of his change in mechanics. “I don’t feel like my arm’s dragging as much and maybe if I’m leaning forward or something’s mechanically off, I’m still able to kind of get into that firing position and hopefully execute a good pitch, make the misses smaller. Feels really good.”
Jose Abreu, who reached base four times, homered for the second time in ’19 with his solo blast in the fourth off Jorge López, which gave the White Sox their first lead of this season. They picked up their first victory after two defeats with Giolito’s 99-pitch effort setting the tone.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him pitch,” Gordon said.
“He’s still figuring things out,” McCann said. “You never stop figuring things out, no matter how long you play this game. He made some adjustments this offseason and I could tell from bullpen No. 1 I caught in Spring Training his stuff was a lot more electric and had a lot more life. It showed today.”