Pirates notebook: Sore ribs have Pirates ace Cole slightly behind the curve

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, 1:30 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The first wave of pitchers threw bullpen sessions Friday when the Pirates officially opened spring training.

Right-hander Gerrit Cole was not among them.

Cole is behind schedule because of what the team described as right rib inflammation. Cole is playing catch on flat ground without restrictions and is expected to throw from the slope of the mound on Monday.

“It's just a modified throwing program at this point,” Cole said. “I'm not too far behind everybody else, but I feel good.”

Head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Cole suffered the injury while training in mid-January.

Neither Cole nor Tomczyk would reveal how it happened.

“It was not a fall or a break or anything,” Cole said. “It was something that kept nagging. It just got to a point where we needed to take a step back in order to come here and have both feet on the ground and move forward.”

When asked if he still is feeling discomfort in his side, Cole said, “it's definitely not prohibiting anything.”

Last season, Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting. He and left-hander Francisco Liriano will be expected to anchor the top of the starting rotation this season.

Cole said he is not worried about not being ready for the start of the season.

“Every time you get hurt or have a setback like this, you end up starting at ground zero and learn something about your body,” Cole said. “You end up coming out the back end better for it.”

Planet of the aches

Left-hander Jesse Biddle is in camp, although he won't begin flat-ground throwing until March. Biddle, who had Tommy John surgery in October, will open the season on the 60-day disabled list. … Outfielder Antoan Richardson is recovering from foot surgery and won't begin baseball activities until mid-March. … Right-hander Nick Kingham, who had elbow surgery last May, is in the flat-ground phase of his throwing program.

Where will J-Hay play?

General manager Neal Huntington said it hasn't been decided whether Josh Harrison will fill in at third base if Jung Ho Kang (left leg surgery) begins the season on the DL. Harrison is set to be the everyday second baseman but has plenty of experience at third.

“We need to have that conversation with Josh first,” Huntington said. “Our anticipation is he'll be willing to do whatever we feel we need to do to put the best club on the field until Jung Ho is healthy and ready to go.”

Harrison has played in 215 games at third base and 99 games at second in his career.

“We have some (internal) alternatives at third,” Huntington said.

“We have some alternatives at second. Josh is going to be more than capable of playing either position.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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