PITTSBURGH — For the first time in about two months, Gerrit Cole looked like Gerrit Cole.
The Pirates’ ace allowed one run in six innings of work in the Pirates’ 4-0 shutout loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, and while the loss to the fourth-place Phillies stings, getting Cole back on track is by far a bigger factor for the Pirates’ success in the second half.
In his return from the disabled list in Washington last weekend, Cole checked all the boxes. He threw all his pitches, the velocity was there, the command wasn’t outrageously bad, but the overall results just weren’t good enough. He gave up five runs in four innings in one of his worst starts of the season.
Friday night at PNC Park, it was a different Cole. His breaking pitches in particular had a sharpness that he didn’t possess in his previous start, and he was able to utilize both the sinker and the curveball to strike out seven Phillies and keep the rest off-balance for much of his outing.
“I thought it was more of a reflection of how the delivery was tonight,” Cole said of his success with the breaking pitches. “It was a good step in the right direction. I thought there was a lot of pitches tonight that were thrown really well that they couldn’t pick up. It’s good to see stuff like that. Hopefully, we can build on it.”
The only hiccup for Cole came in the sixth inning, when he gave up an infield single to Odubel Herrera, hit Andres Blanco and walked Tommy Joseph to load the bases with no outs. He gave up one run on Cameron Rupp single to right, but was able to stop the bleeding with back-to-back strikeouts and a fly ball to end the inning.
“We just stayed aggressive [and] read swings,” Cole said. “I thought a couple of the guys were a little anxious up there and we were able to move the curveball at the bottom of the zone and underneath the zone. [We] kept them honest with some fastballs in some situations. We executed when we needed to.”
The 28-pitch inning prevented Cole from having a longer outing. His 96 total pitches were the most he’s thrown since returning to action from right triceps tightness.
“The sixth inning was unfortunate,” he said. “I was just not efficient with the first couple of hitters and got into a jam that unfortunately, I couldn’t totally get out of. I minimized, which was great. Rupp hit the ball to [Gregory] Polanco, that’s a good pitch, nice swing.”
In Washington, Cole said that he wasn’t happy with the way he pitched out of the stretch, possibly because he hadn’t allowed many baserunners in his two rehab starts and thus hand’t gotten to work on it much. Against the Phillies. he had runners on base in each of the first three innings, and he felt much more comfortable out of the stretch.
“I thought we made some adjustments and cleaned it up,” he said. “I thought the leg timing was better. I though the timing with the hands was connected, so that allows you to stay with a relatively efficient leg [kick]. Obviously, you mix in your holds and your picks and whatnot. It didn’t seem like we were sacrificing too much on either side — holding the runners or the quality of the pitches. It was good to see that bounce back a little bit. There’s still some room for improvement.”
MOVE DOWN WORKS
Not much about the Pirates’ offense went well, as Phillies starter Zach Eflin pitched a three-hit shutout, but the one (and probably only) bright spot was the performance of John Jaso.
Jaso has been the Pirates’ left-handed leadoff man for much of the season, but with Jaso in a 1-for-13 slump to start the second half, manager Clint Hurdle decided to move him around in the lineup, first hitting him sixth against Milwaukee on Thursday and then fifth against Philadelphia. Jaso went 1 for 3 with a double Thursday and was 2 for 3 with a double Friday.
“I don’t know, I’m just glad he is.” Hurdle said when asked what has been different about Jaso since the change in scenery. “You try different things. He led off an inning with a first-pitch double. Sometimes you just move things around, see if that can jump-start it.”
“There was a lineup change and there was some other stuff that I was working on personally,” Jaso said. “You can never put your finger on one thing in this game. I felt good tonight, so I just want to keep it going.”
Despite getting three-hit by Eflin, the Pirates had plenty of contact, as they were strikeout victims just six times. But even though they made plenty of contact — both in the air and on the ground — the Phillies defense was up to the task. Especially deflating were a few balls that looked like extra-base hits off the bat, but were run down by Peter Bourjos and Herrera in the outfield.
“That’s deflating in the moment, but we’re all professionals here,” Jaso said. “We have a lot of games under our belts. You just keep moving forward. You forget about that by the time your next at-bat comes around.”
Hurdle credited Eflin for keeping the Pirates off-balance with his breaking pitches while keeping his fastball down to keep the fly balls in the park and induce 11 grounders.
“[Eflin] spun both breaking balls very well,” Hurdle said. “His changeup played for him, he maintained fastball velocity with sink throughout the outing. He kept the ball out of the middle, he changed locations, he changed velocity, kept it down. It was a mix of everything.”
When the Pirates did get a pitch to hit, they weren’t able to capitalize.
“We had balls to hit, and we didn’t hit them that well,” Hurdle said.
GLASNOW IS A GO
For whatever reason, the Pirates have been unwilling to reveal the identity of Saturday’s starting pitcher, even after the Indianapolis Indians changed their probable starter from Tyler Glasnow to Chad Kuhl.
Hurdle finally confirmed that Glasnow will indeed start Saturday. The 22-year-old lefty has a 1.94 ERA is 18 starts in Triple-A. In his major-league debut earlier this season, he gave up four runs in 5.1 innings against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
The Phillies will counter with Aaron Nola, who has a 8.10 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP in his last seven starts, while averaging less than five innings per appearance.