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Already team ace, Pirates' Cole embraces another title

| Friday, March 18, 2016, 6:12 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole pauses on the mound between pitches during a spring training game against the Tigers at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers during a spring training game against the Tigers at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gerrit Cole already entered the spring with an important role: staff ace.

He looked closer to returning to that status Friday afternoon. After having his spring delayed by rib inflammation, Cole made his second start of the spring against the New York Yankees' Triple-A team on backfield No. 2 at Pirate City.

Cole hit 98 mph. He threw 29 of his 50 pitches for strikes. He spun his curveball for strikes, which pleased pitching coach Ray Searage, who exclaimed “Attaboy, kid!” from behind the chain-link fence surrounding the field during the second inning.

“It felt good,” Cole said. “I thought the curveball was really crisp. It stayed with me through the outing. The fastball command got progressively better. ... I got the pitch count up.”

Cole allowed one run in three innings and said he believes he is in line to start at some point during the season's opening week. Francisco Liriano has been tabbed as the opening day starter. But Cole has a new and important title in addition to staff ace this season: He's the club's new union player rep, replacing the departed Neil Walker.

As Florida voted in its primaries last week, the Pirates also voted earlier this spring.

Pirates setup man Tony Watson said he discussed candidates with Walker. They agreed Cole had the right “personality,” smarts and curiosity for the role, which carries more weight this year as the collective bargaining agreement expires after the season. During a players-only meeting, an informal vote was taken and Cole was elected in a noncontested race.

“It's a pretty important year to be a union rep,” Cole said. “I think the technical term is ‘voted on.' We didn't have a ballot or anything.”

Cole perhaps also has the proper motivation.

He was not called up until mid-June 2013, making him ineligible for Super 2 status, which grants a player an extra year of arbitration. Suppressing service time has become a contentious issue with another Scott Boras client, Kris Bryant, who filed a grievance against the Chicago Cubs last spring.

Cole was not pleased with the Pirates' contract offer this season, but players with zero-to-three years of service time can be paid at near minimum salaries regardless of performance.

While players' averages salaries are at all-time high, owners' share of revenues has increased.

What's on Cole's agenda at future union meetings? “It's funny when we talked about this (during) union meetings, about work stoppages and issues related to the CBA, it seems to be the same four or five issues every year,” Cole said. “Just trying to renegotiate compensation in those areas. Free agent compensation is huge — with the draft pick and qualifying offers — that's a huge position that needs to be addressed. The whole system needs to be looked at.

“And then the typical stuff: the zero-to-three (service time), arbitration stuff, the revenue split, international draft, domestic draft. There's just some things that need to be addressed.”

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, like Cole, also was upset with his 2016 salary in his final pre-arbitration year.

Is there an internal divide among veteran and young players about how seniority should be weighed compared to merit?

“I don't think there is a divide,” Cole said, “but I don't have everyone's pulse.”

But Cole plans on gathering as much information and opinion as he can.

Watson noted how Cole has become a team leader. He's well liked. As a number of minor league players came off the backfields following Cole's start, they kidded and embraced Cole, who waited for Jung Ho Kang for a ride back to the major league clubhouse.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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