Pirates top prospect Gerrit Cole did not have his best stuff tonight, taking the loss in Altoona to move his record in AA to 3-6 against the Akron Aeros. Although Cole showed flashes of his number one starter potential, his control and command were both spotty, at times disappearing for several batters before returning with a big pitch. To Cole’s credit, he threw deep into the 7th inning, registering 110 pitches, giving up four runs (all unearned) after two costly errors, and dealing with a small strike zone.
Cole threw 6.1 innings, surrendering four unearned runs, six hits and four walks, while striking out four. Of his 110 pitches, 64 were thrown for strikes (58%).
Struggles with Control and Command
Cole’s six walks were the most he’s given up in any game since beginning his pro career early this season in Bradenton. All evening, Cole struggled to locate both his two- and four- seam fastballs, and he was particularly off in the first two innings, needing 42 pitches to get six outs (though an error on catcher Ramon Cabrera didn’t help).
He managed only one, one-two-three inning (the 4th) and had three innings in which he threw over 20 pitches, demonstrating his inconsistency on the night. In the third, Cole got the first two batters out on three pitches only to walk the next batter on four straight balls, demonstrating his inconsistency on the night.
Cole’s problem was not the first pitch of at-bats, as he threw a first pitch strike to 21 of the 30 batters he faced. The problems for Cole came in the middle of counts, failing to consistently follow up his first pitch strikes with subsequent pitches in the zone. Also concerning was that he was missing his spots somewhat erratically, sometimes high, other times either inside or outside.
My observation of Cole’s control issues tonight was a tendency to ‘nibble’ at both the inside and outside corners, as many pitches were just several inches off the plate. He appeared to lack aggression with his pitches, trying to be too perfect on the corners instead of getting the ball in the zone and making his pitches.
By my calculation, Cole threw 89 fastballs and a mix of change-ups, sliders, and two curve balls with the other 21 pitches. Tonight, the slider (90-92) looked like the best of the secondary pitches, inducing a few swings-and-misses when the pitch was low and away to right-handed batters. The two curveballs also appeared to fool the hitters, but at this juncture it appears that Cole is focusing on the other three pitches. The change-up showed some downward movement, but he was inconsistent with its location, often leaving it off the plate.
Velocity not a Problem, Even Late in the Game
It’s no secret that Cole can dial it up into triple digits. His hard fastball sat 96-99 MPH throughout the night, and he touched 100 MPH once in the first and 101 MPH in the fifth. The rap on Cole is that he sometimes overthrows the fastball, flattening it out and making it easier to hit. Akron’s batters were able to make some decent contact on his harder fastballs, and Cole’s best located fastballs were in the 96-98 MPH. His best pitch of the night was a 98 MPH fastball ‘on the black’ to strike out shortstop Ryan Rohlinger to start the seventh inning.
Velocity is exciting to see, but in and of itself, triple-digit fastballs need either good location or movement to be effective. Moving forward, Cole may be better off shaving a few ticks off his heater to locate it better or throw it with more down angle.
Another positive for Cole was the number of pitches he threw — 110. He went over 100 pitches facing the first batter of the 7th, who he struck out. The next batter popped up to the triangle between second, short, and centerfield resulting in a hard luck hit. These examples demonstrate that Cole was still making some good pitches even with the high pitch count.
Tight Strike Zone Challenges Cole
Pitch tracking data gathered in the press box showed that six or seven of Cole’s pitches early in the game easily could have been called strikes, including three of these with two strikes. Cole was visibly frustrated with the home plate umpire at times in the first two innings.
From my vantage point, Cole was getting squeezed a bit. However, as he progresses, Cole will have to make adjustments to the different strike zones umpires have. For the most part, he kept his composure, but my observation was that the small zone affected Cole’s outing.
Overall, Cole labored tonight throwing only 58% of his pitches for strikes and going into many deep counts. However, he made some good pitches when he needed to, striking out four to limit the damage threw six innings. At this level, his hard fastball can still be a very good pitch, even when he’s not locating it all that well, and he showed the ability to throw hard on a high pitch count, a promising sign moving forward. In addition, neither the Curve’s defense nor a small strike zone helped Cole out much tonight.