Pirates Notebook: The Growth of Cole

Gerrit Cole lost his seventh start of the season last night against the Milwaukee Brewers, and runs his record to 2-7 after he started the year 4-0. Cole threw seven and one-third innings, and allowed four runs (three earned) on 10 hits and a walk, while striking out four.

While Cole took the loss, the outing last night may have been one of the most encouraging from 2011′s No. 1-overall selection among the 14 he has made thus far. Exhibit A comes from the length of the start, while Cole also showed a little more versatility with his repertoire.

Gerrit Cole continues his development as a starting major-league pitcher, and last night may have been his biggest step yet. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole continues his development as a starting major-league pitcher, and last night may have been his biggest step yet. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Brewers scored a single run in three of the first four innings against Cole. But like Jeff Locke on Tuesday, Cole encountered a couple of bad breaks. In his own words, Cole “screwed up” a pick-off play that saw his attempt go into foul ground in right field and Jean Segura get to third base and later score.

“I tried to go in off the plate to Lucroy and we got the ball where he wanted to, about four inches off the plate, and he just sprays it out over second base,” Cole said.

Milwaukee nicked Cole early again in the second, when Carlos Gomez singled, stole second, and scored on a double by Khris Davis. In the fourth, Aramis Ramirez hit a solo home run.

But through the first four frames, Cole threw 52 pitches with the most coming in a 17-pitch third inning when he kept Milwaukee off the board. Keeping his pitch count down, and attacking the strike zone has been one of Cole’s strengths all season.

Thursday, he settled to work through the seventh and head out to the mound when Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura knocked him from the game in the eighth with back-to-back hits.

“I feel like the Gennett at-bat at the end, I made a lot of good pitches to him and then the last one finally wasn’t that good,” Cole said. “I showed Gennett too many pitches and the hit-and-run, it’s the second time Segura’s done that to me, pulls his hands in and tries to go the other way, he does a good job with that pitch.”

Still, the takeaway from the game was a positive one for Hurdle and his 22-year-old workhorse.

“This one there’s definitely something for him to take and keep in his back pocket and hold on to,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The distance traveled, number one, to get in the eighth inning. He’s pitched the seventh inning before, this is new territory, and he earned it.”

What helped Cole reach the eighth for the first time as a major-leaguer was his mix of pitches that saw him throw more off-speed rather than relying on the fastball.

“I threw some really good sliders today. I threw some good ones, so that’s getting better. I threw some good curveballs. There’s a couple that got spot over the plate but that’s going to happen,” Cole said. “I think there’s progress there, progress from the changeup, we threw some good changeups right-on-right,good changeups right on left.”

In his first start for Pittsburgh, Cole threw 64 fastballs and 17 off-speed pitches. Last night, Cole threw 53 fastballs and 43 off-speed pitches, mixing in his changeup, curveball, and slider.

The slider was most prominent in the top of the sixth when Cole struck Ramirez out swinging. In 2013, Cole has thrown fastballs 39 percent of the time in two-strike counts.

His 2-2 pitch to Ramirez in the sixth was a heavy-snapping slider that started up-and-in and ended up middle-away off the plate. Ramirez struck out swinging.

“He understands that you can’t live in the lap throwing 95, 96, 97, 98,” Hurdle said. “I think he understands that better than he ever has before.”

Which is a good thing. No matter how hard a pitcher can throw a fastball, big-league hitters are going to hit it. Instead, Cole is learning how to just use it better.

“He’s understanding better the importance of location with his fastball, his four-seamer, his two-seamer,” Hurdle said.

That, in tandem with progress in using his other pitches showed a side of Cole that Pittsburghers may not have seen before from anyone besides A.J. Burnett this season.

“He’s also understanding the importance of being able to spin the ball, use the changeup effectively for swing-and-miss and also for early strikes,” Hurdle said. “All of that is slowly developing and coming into play without a doubt in my mind.”

As Cole continues his career, what is the next step for him after increased confidence and execution with his secondary arsenal?

“One of the challenges he’s had this year is coming from Pitch One and being sharp. That’s a challenge for a lot of guys. There’s a lot of guys in their third or fourth year that are still working on that,” Hurdle said. “But I think that’s one thing that we’ve been able to identify, just come out of the chutes a little crisper than he has so far.”

Overall consistency as well will make Cole able to work into the eighth inning more often, and possibly beyond. He looks the part, with his 6-4, 240-pound frame.

“It’s a handful of pitches that separates a lot of these outings from really good ones to not good ones and those handful of pitches are really what you get paid to make and they’re really tough pitches,” Cole said. “Because you just gotta go out and almost execute pitches and not think about what the count is, because there’s so many things that you can’t control.”

  • THE BIGGEST SERIES EVER (IN THE LAST 20 YEARS)

That’s what many will likely hear this three-game set referred to, which was also the case the last time the Cardinals were in town when the Pirates won four-of-five from St. Louis at PNC Park. St. Louis (78-55) leads the Pirates (77-56)  by a game in the NL Central, and is 12-5 in its last 17 games. Meanwhile, the Pirates have played even .500 baseball since the beginning of July.

Here’s Clint Hurdle’s thoughts from this afternoon:

“We’re in second place, we’re a game behind the team we’re playing so it’s pretty much all laid out for you. Tonight we’re playing, we’ll be in a different situation one way or the other tomorrow. That’s what we’ve done all year, that’s when we’ve been at our best so we do have 29 games to play, but we start with tonight’s game. We play tonight to see what happens next.”

Time passes. People change. The leaves turn brown. Clint Hurdle and the Pirates remain focused on today.

  • Lineups

Pirates

  1. Jose Tabata LF
  2. Neil Walker 2B
  3. Andrew McCutchen CF
  4. Pedro Alvarez 3B
  5. Marlon Byrd RF
  6. Garrett Jones 1B
  7. Russell Martin C
  8. Clint Barmes SS
  9. Francisco Liriano P

Cardinals

  1. Matt Carpenter 2B
  2. Carlos Beltran RF
  3. Matt Holliday LF
  4. Allen Craig 1B
  5. Yadier Molina C
  6. David Freese 3B
  7. Shane Robinson CF
  8. Pete Kozma SS
  9. Shelby Miller P
Nate Barnes

Author: Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh and is the Sports Editor of The Pitt News. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_TPN where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • johndw28

    Nate your writing has been fantastic.

  • Cato the Elder

    I concur.

    • Nate Barnes

      Thank you, gentlemen!