Lucas Giolito battled butterflies when he finally stepped on the mound in Batavia on Wednesday, the ballpark lights towering above and the seats filling up.
"It was something I've looked forward to for a while, pitching at a Minor League stadium under the lights, the crowd, the team atmosphere," said Giolito, the Nationals' first-round pick in 2012. "It was awesome to get up here and get this under my belt."
Anticipating that moment has been floating through Giolito's mind for the past 11 months. Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery.
"I feel back at 100 percent," he said, "like I was before the surgery."
Once considered the top high school arm of last year's Draft class, Giolito dazzled in his long-awaited short-season debut Wednesday night, allowing two hits and striking out four over five innings as Auburn blanked Batavia, 7-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
The 19-year-old right-hander underwent elbow surgery almost immediately after being drafted. Less than a year removed from the procedure, he was back at work, hitting 99 mph on the radar gun at Dwyer Stadium in upstate New York.
That, oddly enough, is exactly how the Nationals and Giolito drew it up.
"I pitched well, but I did have a little jitters beforehand," he said. "It was the first time I've pitched in front of a crowd in a long time. I had pregame jitters and had the adrenaline going but was able to calm it down and throw strikes."
Giolito (1-0) faced 17 batters in his first start above the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League as he continues his comeback from surgery. The 16th overall selection induced eight ground balls and just one fly ball before turning things over to Mike Mudron, who got the last six outs to finish off the Doubledays' third shutout of the season.
"I was throwing four-seamers, curveballs and changeups, mixing in curves and changeups later in counts and later in the game," Giolito said. "I think I was 94-99 mph tonight; I heard I topped out at 99."
The California native worked a 1-2-3 first, striking out leadoff man Luis Ortiz before pitching around a one-out double by Austin Dean in the second. He fanned two in the third, used a double play to erase a single in the fourth and, after Auburn scored six times in the fifth, worked a perfect fifth to end his day.
Washington selected the 6-foot-6 right-hander out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, Calif., but he pitched only two innings before being shut down and sent for surgery on his elbow. He returned last month in the GCL, where he went 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings over eight starts.
"The team is great, it's a great atmosphere, we were winning a ton of games, it was really fun to be down there and play down there," he said of the first-place GCL Nationals. "And then to come up and pitch under the lights, play with friends and teammates on the Doubledays, I'm looking forward to the next few weeks."
Giolito's fastball was clocked as high as 100 mph in high school. He sprained the ulnar collateral nerve in his right elbow last year and the Nationals anticipated him undergoing Tommy John surgery when they made the decision to draft him. Highly regarded when healthy, his early selection was viewed as risky by some.
"In the Draft, it's about risk and reward," general manager Mike Rizzo told MLB.com last year. "We felt the upside of Giolito trumped the risk of him getting injured. We thought and expected that he was going to have Tommy John surgery going into this. The doctors looked at the whole package medically and thought that he would be a great rehab candidate."
Giolito, who comes from a family of television actors, said he'd hoped to avoid surgery.
"It was a little weird, crazy -- I got drafted, thought I'd be OK, and first start out last year, I tore it," he said. "I needed surgery, thought, 'OK, I've gotta rehab now, see where it goes from there.' I took the rehab very seriously; the Nationals have been through it all before, I just bought into the whole system and trusted it and worked really hard."
The win was another step toward his ultimate goal of getting to Washington. His father, Rick, summed up the family's pride after the game.
"A thrill to see my son pitch for the 1st time since that awful day in March '12," he posted on Twitter. "And did he pitch! Thanx Luc. U made Dad proud."
Rick Giolito is an actor and producer, while Giolito's mother, Lindsay Frost, has appeared in dozens of television shows. The right-hander's grandfather, Warren Frost, appeared in 33 productions, including a recurring role as Mr. Ross on Seinfeld.
The younger Giolito said he always gravitated toward baseball.
"It was really cool. My dad wasn't acting by the time I was growing up, but my mom was doing stuff. I haven't seen most of the stuff my mom has done. I'll be flipping channels and I'll see her on CSI or something and crack up about it," he said. "I'll yell over to her, 'Hey, I see you on TV right now.'"
Giolito said his younger brother, Casey, is entering his first season as a high school pitcher.
"He looks like me when I was younger, same arm action," he said. "I never studied or got into acting, but my little brother is way into that. He really likes both, so we don't know if he'll follow in my footsteps or my parents'."