More than four months ago, Lucas Giolito stood at Memorial Park in Santa Monica and considered the opportunities in his future.
At the time, he was preparing to join the Washington Nationals for spring training and hoping to make his first Major League Baseball appearance before long.
“It’s getting closer and closer,” he said then. “It’s like you can almost taste it.”
Giolito, a Santa Monica Little League alumnus who attended Lincoln Middle School, got the proverbial meal he’d been craving. The 21-year-old prospect threw his first MLB pitches Tuesday night against the New York Mets in a brilliant debut that was cut short by a rain delay.
Giolito gave up just one hit and two walks in four scoreless innings, setting the tone for his team in what turned out to be a 5-0 victory for the Nationals.
“Incredible last 24 hours,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Would never have got here without the support of my incredible family, friends, teammates, coaches and #Nats fans!”
Tuesday’s outing marked the latest step in a baseball journey that showed promise in Little League games in Santa Monica, continued at Harvard-Westlake and blossomed in the minor leagues over the last five years.
Giolito, who had Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted 16th overall by the Nationals in 2012, has been working hard to build back his strength and stamina. Before his first start in the majors, he was 5-3 with a 3.17 earned-run average and 72 strikeouts over 71 innings this season in 14 starts for Class AA Harrisburg.
Many Nationals fans likened the ascent of Giolito to that of Stephen Strasburg, who made a similarly anticipated MLB debut in 2010. Strasburg’s recent placement on the injured list led the organization to call up Giolito.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker said beforehand that he tries not to bog down prospects with advice before they reach the big leagues.
“Once the first pitch is thrown, it is another game,” Baker said, according to the Washington Post. “You’ve got higher stakes, more people, but you’ve got to put all those things out of your mind and realize you’ve just got to concentrate with throwing the ball over the plate and throwing to your catcher and following his lead and gameplan, because there’s a good chance he knows more about the opposition than you do.”
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo noted Giolito’s professional attitude as a player, even in the minors.
““He’s very poised and confident,” Rizzo said, according to MLB.com. A guy with great stuff. He works extremely hard in preparation for his starts, physically and game preparation. So I don’t think that he’ll be overwhelmed in the situation. He’s a guy, with his makeup and confidence level, we feel good about.”
Nationals star Bryce Harper said ahead of Tuesday’s game that he was looking forward to watching Giolito from the outfield.
Giolito didn’t disappoint.
“I thought he threw great,” Harper said afterward, according to SI.com. “He had a great mentality going out there, and didn’t really let anything affect him at all. If he can do that, he’s going to help us. Being able to go out there with the emotion and everything that he had today, I didn’t see it. It was a lot of fun to watch, and I don’t think any kind of big moment or anything like that is really going to come in his way, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”