The lasting image of Gerrit Cole’s first major league start wasn’t when he drove in a run, but a pitch he threw to the first batter he faced. With two strikes and Gregor Blanco at bat, Cole reared back and delivered a fastball with the high heat Pirates fans had been waiting for ever since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011.
Blanco swung right through it, and Cole owned his first career strikeout.
It’s now been over three months since that debut, and Gerrit Cole is not the same pitcher we saw when he emerged from the minor leagues. And that’s a good thing.
“He’s grown, he pays attention and he competes,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s shown up, as we’ve all seen, big time down the stretch.”
The latest example of a “growing pain”, so to speak, came Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. Cole entered the frame protecting a 1-1 tie, but walked the lead-off man, Brian Bogusevic, and allowed a single to Welington Castillo.
Darwin Barney laid down a bunt to move men to second and third with a single out, and draw pitching coach Ray Searage out of the dugout.
Cole proceeded to strike out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro and induce a groundout from Starlin Castro.
“It was a big opportunity to get those outs,” Cole said. “It’s a big-time shutdown inning.”
With the shutdown inning, the Pirates capitalized on the opportunity to pull ahead and did so on a solo home run by Marlon Byrd. The home run put Cole in line for a winning decision, which he earned to move over. 500 at 8-7.
“He’s learned in each of these major-league starts,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “It’s been fun to watch him mix-and-match with his stuff.”
His seven innings of one-run baseball followed possibly his best outing of the season, when he shut down the Texas Rangers in seven shutout innings last Monday. Lately, Cole’s biggest development has been his work with his off-speed stuff.
“The last two outings, his curveball against Texas, his curveball was his best pitch and it showed up again [Saturday] in some big situations,” Huntington said. “Again, intelligence, competitiveness, how hard he’s worked, our guys have helped him get better. He’s stepped up in so many situations for us.”
As Cole continues to step up, pitch, and develop, he continues to make the man who drafted him look even better and better.
“I think that the fun part is that he’s pitched. He’s a guy that’s capable of throwing 100, and he’s pitching,” Huntington said. “He’s moving his fastball around the zone, he’s using his curveball for chase and strikes, he’s not just raring back and letting it go, he’s pitching. He’s using all of his weapons, and he’s using his intelligence.”
Cole’s stepping up entails the Pirates may have a viable fourth option on their hands when the playoffs roll around. If Cole delivers another set of good outings this week against San Diego and next week against Chicago, he may be in contention to pass Charlie Morton as the team’s consensus third starter for the post-season.
But that’s a little far-sighted at the moment, as Cole’s development has hinged on a focus on what’s in front of him at a given moment in time.
“I try to go one pitch at all. Sometimes, I slow down too much. Sometimes, I don’t slow down enough. I still need to find that sweet spot, that fine line from assessing the last pitch then throwing the next one,” Cole said. “I do work fast and I think I’m at my best when I kind of breeze over the last pitch and keep moving.”
It’s about action, as opposed to reaction, not only for Cole but also his skipper.
“We drafted him No. 1. He’s showing the mettle, the skill level and the talent we thought he had when we drafted him,” Hurdle said. “You didn’t know where he was going to be able to take you but his actions are speaking loud and clear.”
- Jose Tabata LF
- Neil Walker 2B
- Andrew McCutchen CF
- Justin Morneau 1B
- Marlon Byrd RF
- Pedro Alvarez 3B
- Russell Martin C
- Clint Barmes SS
- A.J. Burnett P
- Will Venable CF
- Alexi Amarista LF
- Jedd Gyorko 2B
- Chase Headley 3B
- Tommy Medica 1B
- Kyle Blanks RF
- Ronny Cedeno SS
- Rene Rivera C
- Andrew Cashner P