Neil Walker Pirates

Rockies Deploy Three-Run Inning to Beat Pirates 4-2

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole was strong in throwing high-90s fastballs and wipeout sliders, but his offense stagnated. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Earlier this year, Los Angeles Times baseball writer taught a “Sports Reporting” class. One of his many tips was to never writer a game story that revolved around this idea: “Before the game, the manager said X would happen. And by jove, it did! Skip predicted it!”

Let’s not break that rule, at least not entirely. However, former-Rockies-now-Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was quite familiar with Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched eight strong innings to lead Colorado to a 4-2 series-opening victory. Prior to Friday night’s game, Hurdle laid out his designs for beating Chacin:

  • Take advantage of “flighty” command (Nope, 70 strikes and 26 balls)
  • Make Chacin get the ball up (Nopers.)
  • Get to the bullpen (Nope again. 8 innings over 96 pitches)

So Hurdle was partially right. Chacin did not show his weaknesses, and Chacin won.

“His command was electric,” Hurdle said. “He just dotted the glove up for eight innings, kept the ball down. There wasn’t a whole lot of breathing room, not a lot of mistakes made.”

The Pirates’ only opportunities came in the first four innings, the only frames where the Bucs got any baserunners against Chacin. In the 2nd, Garrett Jones grounded into a double play to erase Russell Martin’s leadoff hit-by-pitch. In the 3rd, Andrew McCutchen hit an RBI single, but Pedro Alvarez then grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the 4th, Jones hit into another DP after Martin led off with a single.

Three chances, three denials. After that, Chacin retired 14 straight batters with half the outs coming on ground balls.

Cole Good, But Loses

Pirates starter Gerrit Cole began very well by striking out his first two batters, but Troy Tulowitzki led off the 2nd inning by blasting a full-count cutter for his 20th home run as Cole left it down the pipe. After that, Cole was successful but inefficient. He retired 12 of his next 14 batters but only three of them on three pitches or fewer.

Cole stood at 83 pitches entering the 6th inning, and although he “didn’t give them a whole lot to work with,” Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk. The rookie pitcher then struck out DJ LeMahieu for his 6th K but gave up an RBI single to Corey Dickerson as his final batter.

It’s a recurring theme over Cole’s first 10 starts: decreased effectiveness as the game goes on. Over his first 50 pitches, he has totaled 25 strikeouts and 4 walks. After that? 18 strikeouts and 10 walks.

Neil Walker Pirates

Neil Walker hit doubles to the fence in each of his first two at-bats. He was stranded both times. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

“I don’t know if you really expect them to strike out a whole lot more second or third time they face you… especially when you have a high pitch count,” Cole said.

Overall, it was a good start for Cole. He personally allowed only one run, though he was charged with three, and he gave up only five Rockies baserunners over his 5.1 innings. Only problem: he exited having thrown 102 pitches.

“I was really patient tonight with two strikes. They were fouling a lot of pitches off,” Cole said. “I would have liked to have been a little more efficient tonight.”

As for the future? Cole says it is uncharted territory for him. He is at 129 innings between Triple-A and the Majors after throwing 132 last year. And he wants to keep going. Does he have an innings limit?

“We have a systematic plan in place for him to continue pitching,” Hurdle said.

Out You Go

The Rockies won the game by hitting two singles off left-hander Justin Wilson, who replaced Cole with runners on the corners and one out. Troy Tulowitzki beat out a chop single down the first-base line and Todd Helton lined a two-RBI hit past a shifted-in Pirates infield.

Why didn’t Hurdle go to ground-ball machine Jared Hughes for the possible threat-ending double play, a sinker-baller who returned from injury to get two quick groundouts in the 8th?

“I didn’t feel that was a situation I wanted to bring him back in the Big Leagues,” Hurdle responded. Hughes, Mark Melancon and Bryan Morris were his only other healthy options.

The Bucs mounted a 9th-inning comeback effort against closer Rex Brothers, who entered after Chacin’s 96 pitches. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez hit back-to-back one-out doubles, but Brothers grabbed the final two outs.

Pittsburgh now leads victorious St. Louis by a half-game in the National League Central and are nine games ahead of any NL team competing to get in the playoff picture.

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James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • moose7195

    Well, bring on the “NH should have done more at the deadline” cries. The offense was miserable tonight.

  • Bryan Graham

    I won’t bring up the deadline, but I do wonder why Hurdle opted not to hit for Walker to lead off the ninth against a lefty.

    • moose7195

      It could’ve been the 2 doubles, I know he’s been bad vs lefties this year, but there is a sizable difference from this year and his career splits. If he is getting hot, he deserves a shot vs the lefty.

      • Bryan Graham

        There hasn’t been a hint of even getting luke warm against lefties. I would say Walker has a large enough sample size this season to know he is very bad against lefties regardless of what his career stats are. The end result of the AB was predictable, hopefully Walker doesn’t get to many more AB’s against lefties this season.

        • moose7195

          58 ABs is large enough? I disagree. And Walker hasn’t shown a hint of getting luke warm vs anyone until a few days ago, so he should still get a chance if he is heating up. You could argue that maybe the 9th inning was a bad time to try it, but again, with only 58 ABs vs lefties this year, I would still be inclined to look at a more long-term platoon split which is still nearly a .260 avg and an OPS thats still 220 pts higher than 2013,

  • Bob Hungerman

    It seems like every time Cole pitches, he allows one run, and the guy who relieves him allows all the runners Cole left on base to score. Maybe he could work out of trouble better himself.

    • Bryan Graham

      I’m not a big fan of how baseball records winning and losing pitchers. I always thought that it would make more sense for the losing pitcher to be the one who gave up the losing run unless the run that scored was the responsibility of the pitcher who left the game. If you leave the game losing 3-1 and the team ends up losing the game 5-4 without ever tying or taking the lead, why should the starter get the loss when he didn’t give up the losing run?

    • skliesen

      Maybe next year CH will trust this big, strong kid to pitch more than 100 or so pitches. Other recent pitchers of similar size and build, Verlander, Sabathia, Beckett, etc. all routinely throw more than 100 pitches.

      Maybe that’s the next step in his development, learning to fight through adversity when he’s a little tired.

  • brilemon

    Is cole on a typical rookie learning curve and leash?

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