It’s not often you want to make things harder for a pitcher, but that’s exactly what Indianapolis Indians catcher Tony Sanchez said he did for right-hander Gerrit Cole during Monday’s International League baseball game at Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y.
“I want him to work for the out. I want him to make sure he can throw his fastball to his arm side and get the fastball in to righties,” said Sanchez after Cole made his first of two scheduled rehab starts before potentially returning to the Major League rotation in Pittsburgh. “Instead of just going to the breaking ball and getting someone to swing over the top of it and making it easy for him, because the big leagues isn’t easy, I am not trying to make it as hard for him as possible. But once I saw how good he looked and how effortless everything was, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try to make it a little harder for him than normal.’”
According to Sanchez and Indy pitching coach Tom Filer, Cole looked comfortable during his 81-pitch start. He pitched five scoreless innings, allowing five hits, seven strikeouts, three walks, and one hit batter. Cole helped Indy snap a seven-game losing streak with a 5-0 win over the Red Wings.
“The ball seemed like it was coming out of his hand fine,” said Filer. “His fastball command was pretty good. I know he walked three guys, but it just seemed like whenever he needed something, he was able to reach back and find his delivery and the strike zone.”
Cole, who hasn’t pitched since July 4, went on the disabled list on July 5 with a strained right lat muscle. He came off the DL two starts earlier after experiencing some shoulder fatigue. Instead of rushing back to the Major League rotation, Cole and the Pirates decided to send him on a minor league rehab assignment to ease back into action. He is scheduled to pitch again on Saturday for the Indians.
“Just to be able to get sharp and hopefully ease the transition as best we could, so that we don’t give away games up there if I’m not sharp,” Cole said of the reason for the rehab assignment.
Cole’s fastball — of which he was able to throw both the two- and four-seamers — sat at 93-98 MPH during the start. He looked strong in a three-pitch strikeout of Rochester’s Pedro Florimon in the first inning when his fastball at 95 tailed back into the left-hander and caught him looking.
His third inning was equally impressive. Cole reached back and hit 99 miles per hour on a 1-1 fastball to Reynaldo Rodriguez. He then struck out Doug Bernier swinging on a 98 MPH fastball over the inside right half of the plate. Cole closed the inning with a 98 MPH fastball to strike out Eric Farris looking.
“I expected a little more rust than what he gave me. He was actually extremely impressive, fastballs to both sides of the plate with command,” Sanchez said. “We elevated when we wanted to. We kept the ball down.”
Cole pitched out of a one-out bases loaded jam in the fourth inning. He got out of with a three-pitch strikeout and a fly out to right field.
“That was a fun situation,” Cole said. “I executed those three pitches (for the strikeout) and then put myself in a position to attack the next guy and got a fly ball out of it. That was nice.”
Sanchez said a new variation of Cole’s vaunted slider was truly impressive in the start.
“He’s been working on a front door slider to righties. That was extremely effective today,” said Sanchez, who hit a one-run double in the fourth and a three-run homer in the sixth for Indy. “It froze up a lot of righties when we needed to get ahead or when we needed to get back even in counts. It was a great pitch for him. I haven’t really seen that pitch from him in the big leagues or in the last year. For him to be adding pitching to his arsenal, it’s a scary thought. I am just happy I don’t have to face him.”
In Cole’s next rehab start, he is expected to have a limit of 100 pitches. According to Cole, he would like to see, “A little more feel for the breaking ball, maybe some better fastball command, and hopefully I can get through a 100 or more than 100, whatever it’s supposed to be, and feel strong at the end. I think the idea is not to really have a leash when I come back, just to be able to slip right in.”