Gerrit Cole stepped into Tuesday’s start as the worst-performing pitcher in the Pirates rotation. Actually, let’s call it “worst-performing” because it’s really only his ERA (3.89, still better than NL-average) and strikeout rate (5.4 K/9) that were lagging behind the rest of the Pirates’ run-prevention machine of a rotation.
Well the young phenom smothered his three-game losing streak with great pitching and timely hitting in Washington. Cole led the Pirates to a 5-1 win over the Nationals by throwing seven innings and allowing only one hit on the mound while collecting two hits and an RBI at the plate. The rookie’s only true mistake served up a solo home run to Wilson Ramos, but otherwise he efficiently retired the Nats via four strikeouts and ten groundouts.
Cole went heavy on his fastball and cut slider again Tuesday night to possibly his best start, retiring half his batters on three pitches or fewer. Cole walked only one hitter and worked efficiently over the last five innings of his 92 pitches, and he relied on defensive plays that ranged from solid to stellar, highlighted by Starling Marte’s leaping grab at the left-field wall and Jordy Mercer asking, Can I Pick It? (Yes you can.)
If you are looking for another reason the 2013 Pirates are a different breed than those of the last two years, the rotation does not have a weak link as it stands. Each starting pitcher has been solid, plus Bryan Morris and new closer Mark Melancon finished off the first win without Jason Grilli in the bullpen.
But Also The Offense
The Pirates’ lineup has yet to break out, but Tuesday’s version produced 10 hits and five runs. Aided by a poor defensive play, the Bucs scored three runs in the 2nd inning and coasted the rest. Singles from Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin found holes, then Garrett Jones walked to load the bases. Neil Walker grounded to second in his first at-bat off the DL, but it was slow enough to avoid the double play and plate the first run.
It looked like the inning would end on Jordy Mercer grounding into a 5-4-3 double play, but the throw from third bounced off Anthony Rendon’s glove. Another run scored, then Gerrit Cole bounced his RBI single for a three-run lead. Remember that Rendon is only playing second base because Ryan Zimmerman has third base locked down; this was only Rendon’s 49th pro game at the position since his conversion from third.
Nationals rookie starter Taylor Jordan looked good (7.2 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 4 K) after losing the benefit of a double play, allowed Pedro Alvarez to crank out an opposite-field shot for his 25th home run in the 8th. Gaby Sanchez then knocked an RBI double off a left-handed reliever to score Russell Martin, who had a game-high three hits. This still does not look like a playoff-level offense, but five runs will help you win more often than not, especially when the pitching and defense continues to be top-flight.