Lucas Giolito did not look like his 2019 self on Opening Night.
Well, now that you mention it, actually, he kind of did.
The image of Giolito that stuck with many from his sensational 2019 season was him shutting out the division-rival Minnesota Twins in August, his finest outing of the campaign that featured a dozen strikeouts to go along with the zero runs.
But a month earlier, he didn't fare so hot against that same Twins team. He was tagged for seven runs, giving up four homers on July 25.
Almost a year to the day, Giolito was once again knocked around, once more to the tune of seven runs, by the class of the AL Central.
The White Sox ace was honored to get the Opening Day nod, a sign of how far he's come, considering on Opening Day 2019 he was fresh off a season as the pitcher with the worst numbers in baseball and faced legitimate questions about how he fit into the team's long-term pitching puzzle. The White Sox were coming off a 100-loss season, but fast forward to this season-opener and there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side. And Giolito's the ace of the staff.
But guess what? The Twins can still rake.
One night should not send anyone for the panic button when it comes to Giolito. But he said himself a day earlier how every game matters so much in this strangest of seasons. A fast start is critical. With the Twins jumping all over Giolito on Friday - Max Kepler launched Giolito's first pitch of the season into The Goose Island in right field - the White Sox are already playing from behind in this mad dash to October.
"I don't really feel good about tonight. Tonight's a night where you just throw it right into the trash can and move on," Giolito said. "I know that my stuff plays. If I command the fastball just a little bit better tonight, it could've been a completely different game.
"I'm not going to lose confidence in my stuff or my ability. It was just one of those nights when I wasn't able to make the adjustment when I needed to."
Friday's result said more about the White Sox two-month race with the Twins for the AL Central crown than it did about what the next two months will look like for Giolito, personally. After all, a year ago, the Twins did exactly the same thing to Giolito, and it didn't do much to sour his season. He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young vote. Starting a shortened season with an ERA north of 17.00 will present a steep hurdle to Giolito finishing that high again. But it shouldn't dash the idea that he's still capable of putting this pitching staff and this team on his back.
Aces around the game showed what they can do as the 2020 season finally got underway. Gerrit Cole only gave up one hit in his rain-shortened debut for the New York Yankees on Thursday night, while Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer struck out 11 in a losing effort in that same contest. Friday, Kyle Hendricks dazzled with a complete-game, three-hit shutout for the Cubs on the North Side. Jacob deGrom struck out eight in five innings for the New York Mets. Sonny Gray struck out nine in six innings for the Cincinnati Reds. And in the AL Central, the other contenders, the Cleveland Indians, got a sensational performance from Shane Bieber, who K'd 14 Kansas City Royals in six shutout innings.
Last year, Giolito put up the kind of season that put him in the same conversation as those pitchers, and if the White Sox are going to bring their dozen-year playoff drought to an end in 2020, they'll need him to do it again.
As ugly as Giolito's night looked Friday, though, the White Sox don't need any more reminders that he's capable of exactly that.
"I have no doubt that whatever the result is today that he's capable of being that guy that was the person that faced them at their place last year," manager Rick Renteria said before Friday's game. "He is that guy. I really don't need anymore convincing.
"I hope that my sense of who he is and what he's capable of doing starts to become something that's very common in everybody's mind's eye when they see him go out and they expect those types of performances consistently. … In terms of having all the ingredients necessary to be that guy, they're there."
Lucas Giolito thumped by Twins, but White Sox know their ace is 'that guy' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago