PITTSBURGH — Gerrit Cole is rolling. The Pirates starter had his sixth straight quality start and finished seven innings for the first time this season while striking out eight Milwaukee Brewers in a 2-1 win on Saturday.
Cole has had some good stretches throughout his major-league career, but he’s in the midst of one of his best. In his last six starts, he has a 2.37 ERA and has 40 strikeouts compared to eight walks.
The underlying numbers continue to get better, as well. Cole started the season with an unsustainably high HR/FB rate that still hasn’t completely normalized. His BABIP is .254, which is part of the reason his FIP of 3.83 is higher than his 3.14 ERA. But Cole also has his ground ball rate all the way up to 48.3 percent.
Travis Barnett has written about how Cole has leaned on the slider more at times this season, but on Saturday, it was the changeup that Cole used as his most deadly weapon. He threw it 22.7 percent of the time compared to 12.87 percent on the season and 5.66 percent for his career and it was certainly working. It had an absurd 30.4 percent whiff rate and Cole leaned on it more as his start went on.
“We were just able to locate it and strike with it in situations that ended up being advantageous,” Cole said. “(Francisco Cervelli) did a great job behind the dish keeping the sequences fresh. Fortunately today, I executed a handful of pitches in key situations.”
“He had a lot of good stuff going on,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The fastball was live. It had good finish. He mixed his pitches extremely well.”
There have never been questions about Cole’s stuff and it seems that he’s completely over the health issues that plagued him in 2016. In fact, he credited the ability to come to the park every fifth day and not have to worry about anything other than his next start as a reason for some of his success.
“It’s been nice,” he said. “It was actually nice to start the year with all day games for a while. It was like I threw day games for two months. It was great. Now we’re in night games. It’s been simpler to get into a rhythm. You’re always looking to get back out there to keep that feel. That’s been helpful.”
The one thing that has dogged Cole somewhat throughout this career has been the ability to shake off some adversity on the mound. He got a heaping of that Saturday, as the Pirates’ offense did a Bad News Bears impression, running out of runs in the second inning and failing to score a run with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth.
But Cole just kept doing his thing.
“Really good to see him compete and continue to stay in control of things he was in control of and not let him let the game get away from him” Hurdle said.
“We did a good job as a team of not letting that affect us,” Josh Harrison said. “Gerrit did a good job of going out and continuing to do what he’s done, which kept us in the game. As many opportunities as we had, I knew we’d be presented with more.”
HARRISON A HERO
Harrison was presented with more opportunities, as he came up with Gift Ngoepe on third base with one out in the tenth inning. Harrison hit an walk-off, RBI single to give the Pirates a victory, the seventh walk-off hit of his career.
“I was looking for something elevated that I could hit to the outfield,” he said. “I kind of fell into it because Gift did a job of getting the inning started and getting to second base then (Jose) Osuna did his job by moving him up. They set it all up for me.”
WATSON GOES TWO
Tony Watson pitched scoreless innings in the ninth and the tenth, going two innings for the first time since 2015.
“After fighting through nine innings, I just went to Watson and said, ‘Can you give us one more?’” Hurdle said. “He’s been very efficient and he looked good again tonight.”
Watson’s ERA fell to 0.73 on the season, while his FIP remains all the way up at 4.73. Watson has always outperformed his FIP thanks to very high ground ball rate. He’s had some traffic on the bases with a 1.45 WHIP, but he’s minimized that throughout his career with a high number of double-play balls.