White Sox Mailbag: How Lucas Giolito plans to throw to Yasmani Grandal

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Vinnie Duber
·4 min read
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Sox Mailbag: How Giolito plans to throw to Grandal originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It's White Sox Mailbag Week, where I answer your preseason questions as we count down to Opening Day.

Next up, a potential catching conundrum?

With (Yasmani) Grandal injured and missing time behind the plate, do you think it makes it more likely that (Lucas) Giolito pitches mostly to the backup catcher, like last season, especially if (Jonathan) Lucroy is the backup? — @Jcmo34Mo

It's fortuitous that this question was asked because Grandal was behind the plate for Giolito's fifth spring start Monday.

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Grandal suffered a twisted knee early in camp and missed a large chunk of the Cactus League schedule, only returning recently and even then getting in only as a designated hitter. Late last week, he made his first catching appearance in a spring game as he attempts to get enough reps in to be ready for Opening Day.

"I hope we can get on track. It's going to be day-to-day," he said last Thursday. "It's going to be, how much workload can we get in and seeing how the knee reacts. So far it's been good, but we're definitely not going to be pushing it too hard, just in case. ... Hopefully in the next week or two we'll get enough repetitions in to feel comfortable going into the season."

Because of that time away, the White Sox other catchers have gotten increased opportunity behind the plate. Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes and Jonathan Lucroy have all received rave reviews from manager Tony La Russa and the pitchers they've thrown to during camp, giving the team a tough call to make in picking a backup for Grandal.

But you asked about Giolito, so let's talk about him.

Giolito obviously had tremendous success throwing to James McCann the last two years. The two made a simultaneous evolution to All-Star status in 2019, and you could argue that both returned with even better seasons in 2020. McCann caught Giolito's no-hitter last season, as well as his dominant playoff start. McCann's success at and behind the plate — he was Gold Glove finalist, along with Grandal — got him a huge free-agent deal with the New York Mets. So who Giolito will throw to now that McCann's gone has been a popular topic.

For Giolito, though, the answer is simple. He assumes it will be Grandal. And come Opening Day, with Giolito scheduled to start, the only thing that would figure to keep Grandal out of La Russa's lineup would be lingering health or readiness issues, not the pitcher on the mound.

"There's no denying the relationship me and James had, that we built over '19 and '20. But I feel great throwing to Yaz right now," Giolito said Monday.

Case closed? Maybe.

Grandal has developed a reputation as one of the best catchers in the game, and he cited the opportunity to work with White Sox pitchers as one of the reason he signed the richest free-agent deal in franchise history two offseasons ago. Just because Giolito and McCann were in sync doesn't mean Giolito and Grandal can't be.

But like he went to work to turn his career around before the 2019 season, Giolito went to work this offseason with another goal in mind.

"For me, it takes a little bit of time, and the catcher as well. That's why this offseason and spring training, I've really paid more attention to communicating with all the catchers," he said. "Obviously, Yaz and I have a better relationship from last year and constantly communicating. But Collins, Mercedes, Lucroy, that's something that I've kind of picked up and learned, 'OK, communicate. What do I need? What do I need out of this guy? Targets, pitch-calling, game-planning.'

"So that's just something I've learned about myself, more so than anything on the catcher, is what I can do to kind of communicate what I need from them.

"And all these guys have been fantastic, especially Yasmani. (Monday) went great. He was very solid back there, he looked great. Everything was synced up. Just going to keep building."

Indeed, the other guys have earned praise from Giolito this spring, too. He raved about working with Lucroy and noticed a big change in the way Collins works with pitchers. Lucroy brings veteran reliability, while Collins brings a potential impact bat. Whoever wins that No. 2 job on the catching depth chart will surely catch Giolito at some point this season.

But the goal in determining who wins that job won't be picking Giolito's next personal catcher. Giolito's making sure of that by learning to work better with everyone. And that includes Grandal.

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