Lucas Giolito's 2014 season has been so good that even the obstacles of opposing lineups don't seem to be enough for the right-hander. Now he's creating challenges for himself.
The Nationals' top prospect removed his curveball from his arsenal and worked strictly with a fastball-changeup mix Monday. And once again, he was nearly untouchable. Giolito allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out six over five shutout innings as Class A Hagerstown defeated Delmarva, 13-7.
"I was talking with my coaches, and I thought that it would be cool to go out there and try to work two-pitch combination," Giolito said. "The main things I'm trying to develop are the consistency to command the fastball to both sides of the plate, low in the zone, and throw the changeup as well for a strikeout -- low, inside, outside."
Aiming for "more feel and consistency" with his two selected pitches, Giolito (9-2) had to wait a little longer than normal to get his chance to employ it due to a seven-run Hagerstown top of the first.
"I was actually still in the bullpen when [Rafael] Bautista hit a leadoff bomb, and I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be a good day,'" he said. "I could tell from the start. It's always great when the offense is able to support you like that."
When he got his turn, Giolito diced through Delmarva's lineup. The 20-year-old surrendered two-out singles to Drew Dosch and Creede Simpson in the first and third and walked Chance Sisco and Jared Breen in the fourth, but none of the Shorebirds' four baserunners made it past first.
"Defensively, [my team] did a great job," Giolito said. "There were a few hard-hit balls that guys were able to make great plays on. [Shortstop] David [Masters] made an unreal play, a diving stop on a ground ball that turned into a double play. That was huge in the second inning. It kind of just got everything moving along really nicely."
Throughout the win, Giolito was able to keep Delmarva's hitters off balance, thanks to a rhythm he found with catcher Spencer Kieboom.
"We were able to get a good mix going, throw the changeup in the right situation when guys were cheating fastball," he said. "In a fastball count, I threw a lot of changeups. I threw the fastball inside when necessary and outside when necessary. I even through a couple high. We just had really good sequences set up the entire game."
Wilmer Difo led the Suns with five hits in six trips to the plate and Carlos Lopez hit a two-run homer as part of his game-high four RBIs.
A 2014 Futures Game selection, Giolito has accomplished a lot in his 19 outings with the Suns. Though he falls short of the innings qualification for the South Atlantic League's ERA race, Giolito's 2.23 mark would place him second in the circuit in that category. His 105 strikeouts are fourth-most in the league, and the righty has twice been named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week. Nevertheless, Giolito isn't content to simply go through the same motions every start.
"There's definitely goals that I set for myself every time I go out there," he said. "I want to improve as a pitcher every time I go out. There's never a start where I'm just going out there and trying to win the game. There's certain little aspects I like to work on. Obviously, we're in Minor League Baseball, so you're trying to develop as a player. All of us are. We all have things we want to work on, and I just want to go out and do that every time as well as try to put up zeros and get the 'W' for the team."
As for his next outing, Giolito hasn't determined what personal challenge will await.
"I'm not fully sure yet. I'm going to go into my next bullpen, side work and keep working on things and see what my next goal for my next start is. As long as we keep winning, we'll be having fun."