A few weeks ago, things weren’t looking good with Gerrit Cole’s rehab work. The right-handed pitcher was coming off a poor second rehab start with Indianapolis, and talked about how he felt “brutal” after the first outing. The Pirates gave him some extra time after that first appearance, allowing him to work on some things with an extra bullpen session.
Since that point, Cole has made two rehab starts, including one tonight. The stats have been much better. He combined for 13 shutout innings on six hits and one walk, with six strikeouts. Tonight he threw seven shutout innings, giving up five hits, one walk, and striking out three. Cole reached 92 pitches, accomplishing what the Pirates wanted him to accomplish of going deep in the game from an innings and pitch count perspective.
The stats are good, but what about how Cole looked? Will Carroll had an encouraging tweet.
G Cole is looking like the old cole tonight.
— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) August 16, 2014
The Pirates could use the old Cole. Their rotation has been good in the second half (minus a few bad outings this week), but no one in the rotation would hold back Cole when he’s on top of his game, with the possible exception of the current version of Francisco Liriano that we’re seeing. Last year, Cole looked like an ace in the final two months of the season. Liriano is currently looking like an ace over the last few weeks. If those two can return as top of the rotation guys for the remainder of the season, that would be huge for the Pirates in their playoff race.
If Cole can return and return to his old self, then that would also help another area of the team — the bullpen. The Pirates could move one of their starters to the bullpen, helping to strengthen that part of the team. My choice would be Edinson Volquez. He has the lowest xFIP of the starters, indicating that he’s least likely to continue putting up his current good numbers. In the bullpen, Volquez could go all out with his fastball, which has reached 98 MPH at times this year. He could pair that with his excellent curveball or his plus changeup, and could possibly be a dominant reliever.
The Pirates just added John Axford, who looked good in his debut tonight against the Washington Nationals. They need Justin Wilson to do a 180 with his walk rate, and if that happens, they could be seeing another improvement to the bullpen. But Axford and Wilson aren’t really guys you want to rely on as 7th inning guys. Volquez could be that dominant arm to pair with Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, making it so that the game is pretty much over if you get a lead past the sixth inning.
Moving Volquez to the bullpen would be possible if Gerrit Cole is really back. That would upgrade two spots on the team — the rotation spot by going from Volquez to Cole, and a bullpen spot by adding a potentially dominant reliever. Cole’s rehab hasn’t been the most traditional rehab work, but he seems to be trending in the right direction, and tonight was a good sign. If this is an indication that he’s ready to come back as his old self, then the Pirates could be looking at a big boost for the final six weeks of the season.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.