Cole stays hot as Pirates cruise to 3rd straight win

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 1:07 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — No Pirates pitcher does a better job avoiding a big, nasty inning than right-hander Gerrit Cole.

The other day, someone mentioned that Cole had yielded more than one run-scoring hit in just two of his first 71 innings this season.

Oops! Was that a jinx?

“I don't believe in jinxes,” manager Clint Hurdle said dryly. “I believe in location. If he continues to locate the ball like he's doing, he's got a better-than-average chance of avoiding a big inning. There comes a point in some games when he says: ‘That's enough.' He's the first guy I've had who's had that emergency brake.”

During the Pirates' 4-1 victory Tuesday against the San Diego Padres — their third straight win — Cole's foot was on the gas all night.

Will Venable hit a two-out double in the second inning. After walking Rene Rivera to start the third, Cole retired the next 11 batters. The string was broken by Chase Headley's looping, two-out single in the sixth.

Seth Smith and Yonder Alonso followed with line-drive singles to score Headley.

Would Cole finally be bitten by a big inning?

It might have been, but Hurdle rescued him.

With Cole's pitch count at 100, Hurdle called on reliever Jared Hughes. Jedd Gyorko grounded out — second baseman Neil Walker made a nice, sliding stop — to end the threat.

Cole (6-3) worked 5 23 innings and allowed a run and four hits. He walked two and struck out six.

“I had good stuff tonight,” Cole said. “I stuck around the zone enough to keep them swinging at it. I wasn't very efficient, especially with a four-run lead. That's pretty frustrating. I uncharacteristically just ran out of stuff at the end.”

Cole said it was “inexcusable” his inefficiency kept him from going deeper into the game, especially on a night when his offspeed pitches were clicking. He blamed himself — Cole threw five or more pitches against 12 of the 22 batters he faced.

“I wasn't missing by much, but I was missing,” Cole said. “I guess I've got to be a little more aggressive over the plate early.”

Their pitching staff riddled by injuries, the Padres called up 24-year-old righty Jesse Hahn from Double-A to start against the Pirates.

Although it was Hahn's big league debut, the Pirates weren't in the dark about him. Manager Clint Hurdle said the team had culled “a good bit of information” from scouts who watched Hahn in the minors and in spring training.

Even so, the Pirates weren't too aggressive at first. They wanted a good look at his fastball, which has touched 100 mph in the minors.

“We set up a game plan,” Hurdle said. “There are some guys who are more comfortable seeing a couple balls out of the hand before they fire.”

In the first inning. Hahn stuck to the basics — 14 of his 17 pitches were four-seamers. The last one buzzed in at 94 mph to whiff Andrew McCutchen.

After that, Hahn mixed in his cutter, curveball and an occasional changeup. The initial results were good: He struck out the side in the second inning.

Jordy Mercer began the third with a single up the middle. It was Mercer's seventh hit in a span of 10 at-bats going back to Saturday in Los Angeles.

Mercer was erased at second when Cole bunted into a fielder's choice. With two outs and Neil Walker at the plate, Hahn threw two curveballs. Walker swung through the first one. He belted the second into the left-field seats.

“Hahn had thrown quite a few breaking balls,” Walker said. “I looked for it on the first pitch. Then, he threw me another one, and I was able to barrel it up.”

The opposite-field shot was Walker's 11th homer of the year. It gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

“I wasn't trying to hit the ball that way,” Walker said. “Sometimes, when you look for certain pitches, you just want to get a barrel on them. I was able to get extension through what in my mind is the middle of the field. When you do that and get the ball just right, you backspin it enough to shoot it out to the opposite field.”

Hahn went back to using mostly fastballs in the fourth, and it did not end well. After Russell Martin walked, Pedro Alvarez roped a low line drive over the right-field wall.

After singles by Mercer and Josh Harrison, Hahn was replaced by Jason Lane — a 37-year-old lefty who last appeared in the majors in 2007 as an outfielder. Lane struck out Walker to end the inning, then worked to contain a smile as he walked off the field.

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