Lucas Giolito follows 'crazy' weeks by taking mound for Guardians with chance to tighten AL Central

CLEVELAND (AP) — Lucas Giolito walked into Progressive Field and was immediately lost, needing directions just to get to the Guardians' clubhouse.

He eventually found it, along with an unexpected role in the AL Central's race.

Acquired last week by Cleveland for the club's final-month push to make the playoffs, Giolito on Sunday spoke about his whirlwind past few weeks in which he was traded by the Chicago White Sox, waived by the Los Angeles Angels and acquired by the Guardians.

“It’s been crazy,” the right-hander said. "I described it somewhat as the Twilight Zone at times. It’s like, man, what’s going on? This is nuts. But that’s the nature of the game. The business is crazy, but at the same time, you roll with it.

“And right now I’m very excited to be a part of the Guardians and what we’re cooking up right here, right now.”

Giolito will make his debut with Cleveland on Monday in the opener of a critical three-game series against the first-place Minnesota Twins, whom the Guardians are trying to catch in the waning weeks of the 2023 season.

Cleveland is five games back and quickly running out of time.

Likely needing to sweep the Twins, who have the more favorable schedule down the stretch, the Guardians will now hand the ball for arguably their biggest game to a pitcher who has quickly gone from foe to friend.

It's a reprieve of sorts for Giolito, who struggled with the Angels (1-5 with a 6.89 ERA) after being traded and now gets a chance to try and help the Guardians close the gap in the division — and maybe even make the playoffs.

The 29-year-old Giolito never settled in with Los Angeles, but said his performance had nothing to do with his new surroundings.

“I don’t like to make excuses. I didn’t pitch well, giving up too many home runs and walking too many guys,” he said. "I don’t want to point a finger at any like, ‘oh, I’ve been going through this.’ That’s really it for me.

“I wasn’t performing my best there, but I’m prepared and ready to do everything I can to help this team win games down the stretch here.”

Giolito spent six-plus seasons in Chicago, where he grew to appreciate what was going on in Cleveland. From the opposite dugout, he marveled at the Guardians' closeness and how manager Terry Francona's teams got better as the season progressed.

“I always noticed the energy and the passion that all the players bring,” he said. “The way Tito (Francona) leads the group. It’s kind of known as the Cleveland Pitching Factory around the league, so I’m so pumped to be here.”

Giolito will be a free agent after this season, and he's been around long enough to know that nothing can be assumed or planned.

He never imagined how this season would unfold, and Giolito was completely caught off guard when the Angels waived him along with five others, including relievers Reynaldo López and Matt Moore, who were also claimed by the Guardians.

It's the second time he's been in the same trade with Lopez.

“We’ve been together since we were 18, hit pretty much every single stop in the minor leagues," he said. "We debuted at similar times, been in two trades together now. It’s very rare two guys are together for that long throughout their career, given how much players move around. It’s been nice to have someone I’m close with going through this process.

"When you go through it alone, it can be a little bit more daunting, but it’s been fun kind of being on this journey together.”

Giolito is still processing his exit from LA.

“It was a bit confusing, but so many things in baseball are when it comes to the business side,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m a player. I’m here to play.”

He's already enjoyed his brief time in Cleveland, and had a front-row seat in the dugout as the Guardians won two one-run games this weekend over Tampa Bay.

Giolito has seen if before.

“I’m really glad to be a part of it now because I’ve been on the other side for a while experiencing some really tough series,” he said. “And one thing about this group that I always noticed is that they're always fighting. And then right around this time, it’s like guys start to get hot, pulling for each other.”

Amid the turbulence of his life lately, Giolito has done his best to stay calm. He's stuck to his routine and has a game plan for the Twins.

“Go out with confidence and let it rip,” he said. “That’s pretty much it.”