SAN DIEGO — As long as Gerrit Cole stays in the Pirates’ rotation this season, it seems he will remain eternally frustrated in himself.
“Just a few pitches here or there” became a common refrain from Cole about how close he was to a dominant start.
Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher was not at his happiest walking off the mound after his six innings of the Bucs’ 2-1 loss in San Diego, and afterwards stomped his feet and said multiple times he was “disappointed” that he could not finish off a road series sweep.
“I let a pretty good opportunity slip away,” Cole said after allowing 10 hits and two runs. “I was just disappointed that I wasn’t able to better help the team.”
Padres hitters did not demolish the Pirates’ top young pitcher, but they sprayed the ball into the grass for nine singles and a double and allowed veteran Ian Kennedy to out-duel the rookie. San Diego picked up at least one hit in each of Cole’s six innings. With Carlos Quentin injured and Everth Cabrera suspended, the Padres tapped singles all over the field and Yonder Alonso drove in both the team’s runs.
Cole’s stuff was there from the outset as he fired high-90’s fastballs and good breaking balls, but the first-year starter said his pitches “crept over” the plate too many times and went for hits.
Will Venable led off the 3rd by driving a double to right and took third base on a groundout. Alonso looped a fly ball down the left-field line, short enough for new Pirates outfielder Felix Pie to throw home for a close play, but Venable beat the throw to put San Diego on the scoreboard.
After Venable grounded into a double play in the 5th, Chris Denorfia lined a first-pitch single off Cole and stole second base on a huge jump. The left-handed-hitting Alonso then worked a full count and got enough of Cole’s 96-mph fastball to drop it into left field, and Denorfia got home before another throw from Pie could get the third out. Alonso did his damage.
“The one guy in the lineup hitting [close to] .300, that kind of gets to me a little bit,” Cole said. “The execution on the inner half of the plate needed to be better, especially to left-handers.”
On the other side, Ian Kennedy bore a more similar resemblance to the pitcher who won 21 games two seasons ago than the one that has struggled to an ERA on the wrong side of 5.00. Kennedy was making his fourth Padres start since being shipped out of Arizona, and it was his first scoreless outing of the year. The right-hander also generated 11 ground-ball outs and tied a season high by firing eight strikeouts.
The 28-year-old California native got through allowing two ground-ball singles and back-to-back walks in the 1st inning to strike out Garrett Jones and strand the bases loaded.
“This was the best I’ve seen him in being able to locate every pitch and keeping guys off-balance, missing barrels,” Jones said.
Kennedy used a “filthy” changeup, as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle put it, to retire 13 of his next 14 hitters after the rough opening act. Only Andrew McCutchen could solve him, collecting three of the seven times the Bucs got on-base versus Kennedy. San Diego’s pitcher showed why he finished in the Top Five in 2011 Cy Young voting, working off his changeup and allowing only four hits (all singles) over his best start of the season.
“He was able to throw his changeup whenever he wanted to, any count,” Jones said. “It comes out of his hand really slow. It seems to never get there. You try to stay on it as long as you can, then he can sneak his fastball by you.”
Only once Kennedy was away could the Pirates’ hitters play. Pie, in his first Major League game in two years, drew a leadoff walk against reliever Luke Gregerson in the 8th, took second base on a groundout and third base on a passed ball. McCutchen then hit a deep enough fly ball to score Pie for Pittsburgh’s only run.
Nothing more would come, though. Huston Street entered sliders-a-blazing for the 1-2-3 save that marked 15.1 straight scoreless innings for the San Diego closer. The Pirates could only scare up four hits, their lowest such output since June 18 in Cincinnati.
Frustration filled up all over the team in black and gold as they missed a sweep opportunity on the West Coast.