When Dylan Cease was called up to the White Sox 2 weeks ago, Lucas Giolito welcomed another “cerebral” starter to the rotation.
Both like to meditate and think outside the box, which is why Giolito underwent 20 sessions of what he called “brain training” last offseasonto try to get his sagging career back on the right path.
“I meditate on occasion, but for me the biggest thing was neurofeedback in the offseason,” Giolito said in Cleveland at the All-Star Game. “Basically it was a brain-training program where they hook you up and read your brain waves and you do focus exercises, guided visualization.
“It’s all about kind of committing things to your subconscious and creating a good baseline.”
The White Sox’s brain trust approved of Giolito’s plan, and now the brain training seems to be paying dividends for the pitcher and the rebuild.
In a few short months he made the unlikely journey from worst starter – statistically-speaking – in the majors to becoming an American League All-Star pitcher. But Giolito believes the best is yet to come.
Being a deep thinker and closet intellectual – he scored 30 on the ACT – Giolito wants to use that brainpower to his advantage. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and, like the Cubs’ Yu Darvish, Giolito has often been accused of overthinking on the mound.
“I think it can help you and hinder you,” he told me. “Baseball is obviously a game of failure. It’s very easy to get into your own head. You saw that last year. I was in that spot a lot.
“At the same time, you can use intelligence, smarts, whatever you want to call it, to refine your game and make it even better. Over the last 6 months I’ve kind of transitioned into that area more, where I’m utilizing my brain more and then turning it off when I need to.”
Giolito pitched a hitless inning for the AL in the All-Star Game, recovering from self-described “jitters” that began with a four-pitch walk to Freddie Freeman, the first batter he faced. He quickly realized his delivery was “out of sync” and righted himself while pitching out of the stretch, getting a called third strike past Cody Bellinger before retiring Nolan Arenado and Josh Bell on groundouts.
It was as good as he always dreamed it would be.
“Going out there further cements to me that this is where I belong,” he said afterward. “Obviously I’ll continue to build some confidence from there and keep riding it out. Maybe apply some things that I’ve been learning from all these guys [on the AL staff] and keep it rolling.”
Giolito came into Monday with an 11-3 record and a 3.15 ERA, dominating the opposition for the most part, with the glaring exception of two recent starts against the Cubs, in which he allowed 12 earned runs over 8 1/3 innings in a pair of losses.
Monday in Kansas City, he allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings.
But to truly consider this a “comeback,” he has to keep it going the rest of the way. Otherwise, it will just be a nice first-half story that faded away. In other words, Giolito knows he still has work to do.
Giolito could’ve returned to action Sunday on regular rest, but the Sox opted to hold him out of the rotation until Monday, with Cease making his second major-league start today. It made a bit of sense since Giolito carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Royals in his opening start of the season in Kansas City in March, and the Sox are trying to limit Cease’s innings so they won’t have to shut him down in September.
But the obvious drawback was starting the struggling Ivan Nova and fresh-off-the-injured-list Dylan Covey in the first two games in Oakland, killing any chance of immediately building on the momentum the Sox had built at the end of the first half.
Giolito and Cease can be a 1-2 punch that prevents the Sox from sliding backward in the final 2½ months, but they could use some help in the rotation so it all doesn’t fall on their shoulders. Cease should be greatly aided by watching Giolito, who admitted his confidence wavered last year, which forced him to look for different solutions to his problems.
The neurofeedback sessions are one big factor in the turnaround. If there was any question the confidence was back, he answered it by shrugging off the wildness that started his All-Star appearance.
“If you want to compete at this level and stay here a long time, you have to have the confidence you’re better than everybody else every time you’re pitching,” he said. “That’s what I take into my games, whether it’s a start against whoever during the regular season or the All-Star Game for one inning.
“For me, that’s what it’s all about.”