If you look at Gerrit Cole’s numbers since being promoted to Double-A Altoona in June, you’d likely be disappointed from the Pittsburgh Pirates No.1 overall pick in last years draft. Heading in to his start last night, he sported a 4.85 ERA over six starts and a .290 opposing batting average against. His outing last night was much better, with six strikeouts in six shutout innings. If you dig a little deeper, Cole hasn’t been pitching as his numbers suggest in his other starts.
“He’s had trouble making mistakes at certain times, as far as walking a guy down in the order here and there,” Pitching coach Jeff Johnson said. “Last start [July 25th] it was that case. The process with Gerrit is, and what I’m most happy about is how he’s throwing the ball. The how is there. If things have fell into place, he would start to show results. I’m very confident.”
Cole is working on an approach with the Curve’s pitching coach Jeff Johnson to get him on track.
“He’s got so many weapons,” Johnson said. “And they’re very above-average weapons. But he tries to use them all. We’re working on trying to get into some type of approach for him.”
“Where am I going to be good at? Whatever it is, I’m going to let him decide and we’re going to figure out what he’s going to be good at. Are we going to pitch fastballs away? Are we going to use the changeup more? Whatever the case, we’re going to start nail down some of that stuff.”
What Johnson has been suggesting to Cole is watching closely the success of Major League pitchers, focusing on doing one thing well, and pitching off of that. Cole throws a four seam fastball, a two seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. Last night he was mostly working off his fastball and slider, with less focus on his other pitches.
“I’m approaching everything a little bit like, watch the big leaguers pitch,” Johnson said. “What do they all do? They all do one thing well. Mainly, it’s pitching down and away, and then they pitch in off of that. Those are the type of things that he really hasn’t done yet. He loves to pitch in, which is fine but it has to work off something else. He’s trying to do it all, and it makes hard for him in some innings counts get extended, walks will happen, flares, and then he’ll give up a big one or a double. Just pitching around some of those innings, he’ll learn to do that. I’m not worried about that.”
Johnson is in his first year as the Double-A pitching coach after spending the past three seasons at Low-A West Virginia. The former big league pitcher coached another former first round pick in the draft in Jameson Taillon. Johnson isn’t worried with the number results from Cole, but knows that with more experience the right-hander will learn to battle through some of the jams that have occurred for him in Altoona.
“It’s experience,” Johnson said. “He’s got less than 100 innings under his belt in pro ball. They’re just no substitute for those innings. He’ll learn that. He’ll be fine. I just want to make sure that we’re starting to develop how he’s going to pitch, at least a guideline on how he’s going to do it when he gets to the big leagues.”
Since the injury and pitching the in the MLB Futures All-Star game in Kansas City, Cole has not been able to get back on his five-day routine like he had while with Bradenton. What’s been worse has been the rainouts for the club, which also could have an effect on the right-hander. After being promoted he tossed just six innings over a 12 days span, then pitched 9.1 frames over his next 18. Heading in to last night’s outing, he made just six starts since being promoted in mid-June, tossing 26.0 innings.
“It certainty doesn’t help,” Johnson said. “He does a very good job with his work. But those guys with power stuff, they need to throw. They need mound work. Doesn’t need to be a lot, but they need get it consistently and he’s fallen into that a little bit. It certainty hasn’t helped. He’s had probably two or three starts that he could have had without those.”
Over his combined 20 starts in his first professional season, Cole has posted a 3.00 ERA with 101 strikeouts and 29 walks over 99.0 innings. In his time with Altoona he has a 3.94 ERA in 32 innings, with 32 strikeouts and 8 walks. Despite being at a higher level and facing better talent, Cole knows at the end of the day that it’s still the same game.
“You kind of have to pay more attention to approaches here, better hitters. But other than that, I just got to get out there and pitch my game really and I’ll be alright,” Cole said. “It’s the same game as long as I just go out and be myself.”