For the last month, Pirates fans have been asking the same question: when will Gerrit Cole get promoted to Double-A? Last week the Pirates announced the move, and tonight Cole made that long-awaited debut. And he didn’t disappoint.
The first overall pick in the 2011 draft showed why he’s the number one prospect in the Pirates’ system tonight. He gave up just two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out six and walking none. He cruised through the first three innings, then gave up a run each in the fourth and fifth, although Altoona gave him plenty of support by then, leading 8-1 after the fourth.
Cole went heavy with his fastball in the first few innings, mostly because the New Britain offense was in take mode. He got ahead in the count by pounding the zone, then used his off-speed stuff to rack up the strikeouts. The standout pitch tonight was Cole’s changeup.
Cole’s changeup comes in around 87-89 MPH, and has a late, sharp, arm-side break. The pitch almost looks like a slider because of the movement it has, and it was fooling Double-A hitters tonight. After the game, Cole was asked in the conference room how good the pitch was.
“I have confidence in it,” Cole said. “I throw it with two strikes, I’ll throw it behind in the count.”
“Hitters will let you know how good it is,” Manager P.J. Forbes chimed in from the side of the room.
Cole threw 74 pitches, with 52 for strikes, and about 10-15 of those pitches were changeups.
“The biggest thing that I want a guy to be able to do at this level is get him to be able to throw a changeup and have confidence in it,” Altoona pitching coach Jeff Johnson said of what Cole needs to focus on at the new level.
“Very pleased with the changeup,” Johnson said of the pitch, which he hadn’t seen much until tonight. “It was better than I expected. I knew it was good, but he used it well, and not afraid to throw it.”
Cole worked mostly with his fastball in the early innings, ranging anywhere from 93-98 MPH. The second time through the count he switched to his off-speed stuff a little more, mixing in some sliders, a few more changeups, and getting a looking strikeout on a front door curveball.
“It’s something that’s a necessity because you’ve gotta keep hitters off-balance no matter how hard you throw,” Cole said of his off-speed pitches. “It’s not about velocity…it’s about location and changing speeds.”
Cole only really gave up one hard hit ball. That was a double against Aaron Hicks to lead off the fourth inning. The rest were singles, with a few finding their way through the infield in the fifth inning.
He was originally scheduled to go six innings and 90 pitches. However, a delay in the fifth inning caused Cole to leave early. After a long bottom of the fourth inning, which saw Altoona score four runs, Cole took the mound to warm up for the fifth. While tossing his warmup pitches, a set of lights went out behind home plate. The lights went out due to a generator issue, caused by the heat. The game was delayed for 22 minutes before the lights came back on.
“It was actually nice to get some warmup pitches in before they went out,” Cole said of the delay.
“The delay definitely played in to it,” Forbes said of removing Cole early. “You’ve got all of the adrenaline built up. Competing, competing, competing. And then sit for 22 [minutes].”
Unlike most pitchers who lose velocity as they go deeper in the game, Cole has the tendency to gain velocity the longer he throws. He showed that tonight in the fifth inning, throwing several pitches in a row that flashed 96 MPH on the stadium gun. The Altoona stadium gun is typically 2-3 MPH slow, which means that Cole was hitting 98-99 MPH consistently in the fifth inning.
Overall it was a strong debut for Cole. We didn’t see the pressure of the situation get to him. He didn’t over-throw the ball, but played his game. Going forward that’s going to be the key for Cole to have success in Double-A. He’s got the stuff. He’s got a fastball that sits in the upper 90s and touches triple digits. He’s got a two-seam fastball that is 93-94 with movement. He can touch 91-92 MPH with his slider. His changeup has a lot of movement and sits in the upper 80s, topping out at 90. And he also throws a curve which usually sits in the low to mid-80s.
“It’s the same game, you’ve just gotta try to understand what your stuff does,” Cole said of the jump to the next level.
“It’s pitching,” Forbes said of Cole’s mature approach. “Hitting is timing, and pitching is disrupting that timing and throwing them off-balance.”
Cole has the stuff to disrupt hitters and throw them off-balance. It’s hard to see him having that much to work on going forward. Only so much can be made from tonight, as New Britain has the worst offense in the Eastern League. However, Cole has the stuff to put up successful numbers against any Double-A team. How well he trusts that stuff will determine how well he does going forward at this level.