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Harvard-Westlake to make history with three starting pitchers on MLB’s opening day

Chicago White Sox's Lucas Giolito pitches during a spring training game.
Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito will be one of three former Harvard-Westlake teammates starting for an MLB team on opening day.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

As if Matt LaCour isn’t busy enough these days, with 22 of the Studio City Harvard-Westlake High athletic director’s teams — including football, basketball, baseball and softball — in action, he will go into next-level multi-tasking mode Thursday.

While layering his normal duties with the logistical challenges of supervising so many overlapping, pandemic-altered seasons, LaCour will try to soak in as much of a historic day for Major League Baseball and his school as he can.

At noon PDT, LaCour will fire up his office television to watch Atlanta Braves left-hander Max Fried take the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.

An hour later, on his computer or iPad, he’ll queue up a live stream of the St. Louis-Cincinnati game from Great American Ball Park, where right-hander Jack Flaherty will pitch for the Cardinals.

And late in the afternoon, LaCour will slip out of the office and drive to Anaheim to watch Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito start a 7 p.m. game in Angel Stadium.

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The Dodgers are proud of their 2020 championship, but they want to win the World Series again in 2021 so they can celebrate alongside more fans.

It will mark the first time in baseball history that three players from the same high school team — Giolito, Fried and Flaherty were Harvard-Westlake teammates in 2012— will make opening-day starts in the same season.

“I’ll be running around with my head cut off,” said LaCour, who spent nine years as the school’s baseball coach before becoming AD in 2015. “But opening day will definitely be a lot more special this year.”

Flaherty, 25, and Giolito, 26, are established aces and were named opening-day starters on Feb. 25 and March 15, respectively. Fried, 27, was not a lock for opening day on a superb Braves staff but got the nod last Thursday, completing the Harvard-Westlake trifecta.

“We wanted to be mainstays in the big leagues. That was something we talked about all the time.”

— Lucas Giolito

“It’s pretty weird and wild — 10% of the league’s opening-day starters from the same high school,” Giolito said on a weekend video call. “I don’t think that’s happened before in any professional sport, where you have guys from the same high school all competing on the big stage.”

That this trio of former Los Angeles-area teenagers ascended to such heights is not surprising. When they were high school teammates, they didn’t just aspire to reach the major leagues.

“We wanted to be mainstays in the big leagues,” Giolito said. “That was something we talked about all the time, because if you set those goals high and you’ve got guys in your corner to motivate you, then they’re much more reachable than if you’re just kind of on your own and hoping and wishing.”

All three were first-round picks, Fried going seventh to San Diego and Giolito 16th to Washington in 2012, and Flaherty going 34th to St. Louis in 2014. But the line from the draft to Thursday’s opening-day assignment wasn’t direct for two of them.

Atlanta Braves' Max Fried pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during a spring training game.
Atlanta’s Max Fried pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during a spring training game March 21 in Port Charlotte, Fla.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Giolito and Fried had Tommy John surgeries, Giolito in 2012 and Fried in 2014, and both were traded away from the teams that drafted them. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Giolito also overcame a brutal 2018 in which he went 10-13 with a 6.13 ERA and an American League-high 90 walks in 173 1/3 innings.

The following winter, Giolito revamped his workout regimen, focusing more on core strength, and his delivery, shortening his arm stroke and slightly altering his arm slot and release point.

He went 14-9 with a 3.48 ERA and 228 strikeouts and made the All-Star team in 2019 and 4-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts in 2020, including an Aug. 25 no-hitter against Pittsburgh.

“Three years ago, Lucas was the worst pitcher in big league baseball, and he had to completely reinvent himself,” LaCour said. “If that’s not some perseverance, I don’t know what it is.”

“Each of them has kind of gone through their own set of tough circumstances in order to get here.”

— Harvard-Westlake athletic director Matt LaCour

Fried, a lanky 6-4, 190-pounder, had a breakout 2019 for the Braves, going 17-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 33 games. He went 7-0 with 2.25 ERA in 11 starts in 2020 and was sharp in two National League Championship Series starts against the Dodgers, going 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings.

Flaherty had a smoother path to the big leagues, the 6-4, 225-pounder compiling a 23-22 record and 3.37 ERA in 76 games over the last four seasons.

But he ran into some turbulence in 2020, when he was criticized by some Cardinals fans for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement and his team was shut down for 2½ weeks from late July through mid-August because of a COVID-19 outbreak that forced them to play 11 doubleheaders.

St. Louis' Jack Flaherty pitches during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals.
St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty pitches during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals on March 10 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

“Each of them has kind of gone through their own set of tough circumstances in order to get here,” LaCour said. “It says a lot about their fight and determination, and the way they take care of their bodies, and how professional they are about how they go about their business.”

As accomplished as the three are as major leaguers, they were unable to win a Southern Section championship together.

Giolito was projected as a No. 1 pick before injuring his elbow in his second game in 2012 and missing the rest of his senior season.

Fried went 8-2 with a 2.02 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 66 innings in 2012 but spent only one year at Harvard-Westlake after transferring from Montclair Prep, which had eliminated its athletic program because of budget cuts. Flaherty was a sophomore shortstop who hadn’t fully committed to pitching in 2012.

Angels manager Joe Maddon tells his team to “play like it’s 1985,” with less emphasis on home runs and more on executing fundamentals.

The Wolverines went 24-5-1 and lost in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs in 2012, a season in which Giolito “was our biggest cheerleader in the dugout,” LaCour said.

The three have remained best friends, calling and texting each other regularly. They’ve worked out together in the winter. Fried and Flaherty were in Giolito’s wedding party in December 2018.

“Growing up, they all talked about playing in the major leagues,” said Rick Giolito, Lucas’ father. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be something?’ But having all three start on opening day? That’s crazy.”


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