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Starkey: Cole Debut, Part II

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole motions to his infielders after getting out of a jam against the Giants on Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole throws during the second inning against the Giants on Tuesday at PNC Park.

Gerrit Cole made his much-hyped major-league debut Tuesday night. He was still pretty hyped about it Thursday night.

“I haven't gotten a good night's sleep since,” Cole said by his locker after the Pirates' 10-0 loss to the Giants. “Just really anxious or excited, I guess. It was pretty hectic there for a couple of days. Now I'm winding down, thinking about the next start. I'm hoping to get some sleep tonight.”

The man will need his rest, because things have changed over the past several days. Cole suddenly is more than a nice story. He's a hugely important part of a decimated rotation.

The Cole Debut, Part II, happens Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park — and once again he's going against a former Cy Young winner. First Tim Lincecum, now Zack Greinke.

Thoughts?

“You always enjoy facing the best,” Cole said.

As Cole spoke, staff ace A.J. Burnett was limping around the other side of the clubhouse — an ominous sign for a team that has seen magical starts turn to dust in each of the past two seasons.

Burnett was placed on the 15-day disabled list that day because of a calf injury, joining Wandy Rodriguez there. Charlie Morton looked shaky in his debut Thursday. Who knows if Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano will sustain their early success?

Ready or not, Cole is going to need to eat some innings and win some games. The Pirates' starting pitching depth is nearly exhausted, their bullpen overtaxed.

Manager Clint Hurdle proclaimed earlier in the week that he has done away with starters' pitch counts. That will only please the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Cole, who is built to work deep into games. His fastball averaged a robust 96.1 mph the other night, according to fangraphs.com, and he moved it around expertly. His last fastball of the night clocked in at 98.

But it's not just the $8 million arm that has people excited. It's the fiery personality. You have to love his attitude. His battery mate from Triple-A Indianapolis, Tony Sanchez, sure does. Sanchez relayed a telling story Tuesday.

“He went off on me the other day,” Sanchez said, laughing. “We were in the seventh inning of two-hit, shutout baseball, on the same page the entire night. He wanted to start some guy off with a curveball. I'm like, ‘No, fastball.' He shook it. I went back to fastball. He shook it again. I went back.

“Well, everyone then heard him go, ‘What the (expletive), Sanchez!' I went out there and said, ‘Dude, have you seen anybody put a good swing on your fastball yet?' ”

Cole's postgame media session Tuesday was even better than his start.

This gem must be repeated: “I wasn't nervous before the game, and that was weird,” he said. “I was kind of nervous about that, not being nervous.”

The competitive juices came out when a reporter relayed to Cole the good-natured jab he'd just received from Hurdle, who spoke of one of the great pitching debuts in major-league history — then-Colorado starter Jason Jennings tossing a complete game and hitting a home run in 2001.

“Yeah, I mean, I guess we'd all love to do that in a perfect scenario,” Cole said, before pausing and adding, “Did he do it against the defending world champions?”

Not exactly, but close: Jennings was pitching against the defending National League champion New York Mets.

Turns out 2001 was a memorable year for 11-year-old Gerrit Cole, too. Though he's a California kid (Newport Beach), he grew up a Yankees fan like his father Mark. The two attended Games 6 and 7 of the World Series that year to see the Yankees play in Arizona against the Diamondbacks.

That is where Cole saw current Pirates batting coach Jay Bell break his heart by scoring the winning run in Game 7.

“It was crazy,” Cole said. “The place was nuts. The stadium was shaking every time somebody got a hit. I was (disappointed), but it was just thrilling. It was the World Series.”

Cole, of course, had a chance to join the Yankees in 2008 — they drafted him 28th overall — but after much deliberation decided to attend UCLA.

Five years later, he's here, ready for start No. 2. The hype won't be the same. The family and friends have returned home. The eyes of the baseball world might well be elsewhere.

But the Pirates need Gerrit Cole now more than ever.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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