The sudden metamorphosis of White Sox’ righty Lucas Giolito into an upper-echelon fantasy starter has been one of the most compelling storylines of the entire 2019 campaign. After posting a disastrous 6.13 ERA - the second-worst mark out of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings of work in 2018 - across 173 1/3 innings (32 starts) last year, the former top prospect was an afterthought in fantasy drafts this spring. He’s come a long way since then. The 25-year-old right-hander’s meteoric rise continued on Wednesday when he authored the most dominant start of his young career, firing a complete-game, three-hit shutout against a high-powered Twins’ lineup, which leads the major leagues in home run production this season.
Giolito generated an eye-popping 24 swinging strikes, including 13 on just his fastball, which led to a whopping 12 strikeouts on the afternoon. He’s recorded three consecutive double-digit strikeout performances and fanned an absurd 36 batters over his last 21 innings of work. He also threw a staggering 82 of his season-high 115 pitches for strikes en route to his third complete game and second shutout of the year in this one. Only one of the three hits he allowed -- an eighth-inning double by Jonathan Schoop -- went for extra bases and he also didn’t walk a batter for the third time in 25 starts this season. “I would say, certainly, that’s about as good of an effort as we faced all year long,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after the game. “We’ve faced some really good starting pitchers. He’s a good one, but he was on his game today." With the victory, he improves to 14-6 overall with a 3.20 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 194/51 K/BB ratio across 151 2/3 innings (25 starts) this season.
Perhaps the easiest way to explain Giolito’s gigantic leap forward is to start with the colossal changes he made to his approach and repertoire, beginning with a revamped offseason throwing program. As he explained to The Athletic’s James Fegan in an article published back in February, the new routine led to improved mechanics, greater consistency with his revamped delivery. It also enabled him to add nearly two miles per-hour in average fastball velocity as well. In addition to the mechanical changes, he dramatically overhauled his pitch selection as well, scrapping an ineffective sinker in favor of more high-spin four-seamers and also began to use a steady diet of changeups to neutralize left-handed hitters.
After completely overhauled his entire identity as a starting pitcher, the changes have led to massive statistical gains, most notably in terms of run prevention. His 3.20 ERA ranks 14th out of 70 qualified starters this season. He’s also slashed his walk rate from nearly five batters per-nine a season ago, to just a tick over three, while nearly doubling his strikeout rate from a well below league-average 6.38 per-nine over 43 starts from 2016 to 2018, to a staggering 11.51 batters per-nine - the seventh-best mark in the big leagues - this season. When you factor in the legitimate changes he’s made to his approach, mechanics and pitch mix, it becomes clear that this isn’t a mirage; Giolito has evolved into a legitimate fantasy ace and he isn’t going away anytime soon.
Gray Suffers Season-Ending Injury
The Rockies unexpectedly announced on Wednesday afternoon that right-hander Jon Gray will be sidelined for the remainder of the season because of a fractured left foot. He told reporters that he began feeling discomfort during a start in San Diego back on August 8. He was scratched from his next scheduled start due to lingering soreness, but managed to make his next turn, tossing eight scoreless innings against the Marlins last Friday. Evidently, the extent of the initial injury was unknown until medical imaging earlier this week revealed a stress fracture in his left foot. He also said that the injury is similar to the one he suffered back in mid-April of the 2017 campaign, which ended up sidelining him for nearly two months. “It’s in the same spot,” Gray told reporters on Wednesday. “I just have to come to a decision on how to take care of it. Last time I didn’t do surgery, but this time I’m thinking I need to.”
Regardless of whether he undergoes surgery to attempt to permanently fix the issue, Gray’s season is over. However, he’s expected to be ready for Opening Day next spring regardless of his course of action. The 27-year-old finishes the 2019 campaign with a 3.84 ERA (3.65 Deserved Run Average), 1.35 WHIP and 150/56 K/BB ratio across 150 innings (26 appearances, 25 starts). He had been slated to start Wednesday's series finale in Arizona, but was instead replaced by 29-year-old journeyman Tim Melville, who was simply outstanding in his first major-league start in nearly two years. He limited the Diamondbacks to just one run on two hits over seven innings in the emergency spot start and also helped his own cause with an RBI single and a run-scoring sacrifice bunt. Given his uninspiring minor-league track record, there isn’t a ton of fantasy appeal outside of NL-Only formats, but he’s an incredible story and has likely earned a couple more starts in the Rockies’ starting rotation going forward.
Verlander Flirts With Perfection
Justin Verlander delivered one of the most dominant pitching performances of the entire 2019 campaign against his former organization in Houston on Wednesday night. The 36-year-old veteran right-hander was nearly perfect, allowing two runs on two hits -- a pair of solo homers -- in a masterful complete-game effort. Yet, he was still saddled with a loss to the rebuilding Tigers. He struck out 11 batters to record his seventh consecutive double-digit strikeout performance and leads the major leagues with a surreal 239 punchouts over 178 2/3 innings of work this season. Despite his brilliance, he’s been consistently burned by the long ball this season and this one was no exception as a pair of mistakes ultimately ended up being the difference in this one. Verlander retired 14 consecutive batters to open the contest, carrying a perfect game bid into the fifth inning, before Ronny Rodriguez sliced an opposite-field homer to right field with two outs in the frame. He also surrendered a go-ahead solo shot to John Hicks, snapping a steak of 10 consecutive batters set down, in the eighth inning. The Astros had a chance to tie the ballgame and potentially send it into extra innings, but Robinson Chirinos -- who went 4-for-4 with a solo homer and fell a triple shy of hitting for the cycle -- was thrown out at third base attempting to stretch a two-out double into a triple to end the contest in a truly bizarre fashion.
AL Quick Hits: Brandon Lowe left Wednesday's rehab game with Triple-A Durham with a left quadriceps strain. … Eddie Rosario left Wednesday's game against the White Sox with a tight right hamstring. … Yoan Moncada (hamstring) will be activated off the injured list on Thursday. … Angels placed Griffin Canning on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. … Tyler Glasnow (forearm) threw another bullpen session on Wednesday morning. The 25-year-old right-hander is expected to advance to facing live hitters this weekend. … David Price (wrist) will throw another bullpen on Thursday. … Ramon Laureano (shin) told reporters that he feels like he’s ready to return. … Kevin Kiermaier went 2-for-4 with a game-tying solo homer and four RBI in the Rays’ eventual walk-off win over the Mariners … Mallex Smith slapped a two-run triple in the losing effort. … Jose Abreu went 3-for-5 with two RBI to lift the White Sox past the Twins. … Jonathan Villar went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer to spark the Orioles to a blowout win over the Royals. … Whit Merrifield launched his 15th homer in the losing effort. … Carlos Santana clobbered his 30th round-tripper in the Indians’ extra-inning loss to the Mets. … Brad Hand coughed up two runs to blow a save opportunity and take a loss to the Mets. … Hunter Pence went 2-for-5 with three RBI, Nick Solak doubled twice and Willie Calhoun swatted a solo homer to lead the Rangers to a win over the Angels. … Felix Hernandez (shoulder) will officially start Saturday's game against the Blue Jays. … Andrelton Simmons (ankle) took live batting practice on Wednesday, and will join the Angels on their road trip to Houston. … Yonny Chirinos (finger) is expected to begin playing catch this weekend. … Avisail Garcia (oblique) is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment Thursday with High-A Charlotte. … Josh James (shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday. … Christian Stewart (concussion) may not rejoin the Tigers until September. … Tigers right-handed pitching prospect Casey Mize has been shut down for the remainder of the 2019 season.
NL Quick Hits: Marcus Stroman left Wednesday's start against the Indians with tightness in his left hamstring. An MRI revealed no structural damage and he could potentially make his next scheduled start … Pirates placed Chris Archer on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. … Joey Votto (back) could return from the injured list when first eligible this Sunday. … Braves placed Brian McCann on the 10-day injured list with a left knee sprain and recalled Alex Jackson from Triple-A Gwinnett. … Dodgers manager Dustin Roberts told reporters on Wednesday that Dustin May will return to starting soon. … Bryce Harper crushed a two-run homer - his 27th round-tripper of the season - to lead the Phillies past the Red Sox … Ronald Acuña blasted his 36th home run of the season in the Braves’ shutout win over the Marlins … Julio Teheran whiffed nine batters over seven scoreless frames to collect a win in that one. … Nicholas Castellanos went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and three RBI to lead the Cubs past the Giants in a high-scoring affair. … Craig Kimbrel notched his 11th save of the season in that contest. … Mike Yastrzemski went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer in the loss … Anthony Rendon went 2-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs in the Nationals’ blowout win over the Pirates to reach the 100-RBI plateau for the first time in his career. … Patrick Corbin tossed eight scoreless innings to pick up a win that contest. … J.D. Davis delivered a walk-off RBI single to lift the Mets to a comeback win over the Indians in extra-innings. … Dodgers’ rookie sensation Will Smith went deep for the second consecutive game against the Blue Jays. … Mike Moustakas socked a three-run homer and rookie phenom Keston Hiura went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI to lift the Brewers to a rain-shortened victory over the Cardinals in eight innings … Luis Castillo yielded one run over six innings in a win over the Padres. … Raisel Iglesias fanned a pair of batters to pick up his 26th save in that one … Ketel Marte slugged a solo homer in the Diamondbacks’ loss to the Rockies. … Dodgers are reportedly hoping Rich Hill (elbow) can be the fourth starter in the postseason. He’s been sidelined since mid-June due to elbow issues. … Jeff McNeil (hamstring) and Robinson Cano (hamstring) both took batting practice on Wednesday. … Willson Contreras (hamstring) was able to perform drills in the outfield on Wednesday. … Austin Riley (knee) will start a rehab assignment with Low-A Rome on Friday. … Johnny Cueto (elbow) will make his next rehab start on Monday for Triple-A Sacramento. … Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters on Wednesday that Ben Zobrist (personal) is on track to rejoin the Cubs in September. … Brandon Morrow (elbow) suffered a setback during his rehab assignment and will miss the remainder of the 2019 season.