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Pirates notebook: Cole rediscovers slider in 2nd start

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, April 10, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole talks with catcher Chris Stewart during a game against the Braves Sunday, April 9, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole talks with catcher Chris Stewart during a game against the Braves Sunday, April 9, 2017, at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers during the first inning against the Red Sox Monday, April 3, 2017, at Fenway Park in Boston.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers during the first inning against the Red Sox Monday, April 3, 2017, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Gerrit Cole finally found his slider.

Normally one of his surest weapons, the slider was practically absent from Cole's arsenal in the April 3 season opener against the Boston Red Sox. He only threw five sliders, which accounted for 7 percent of his pitches.

In Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves, Cole's slider usage jumped to 30, which was 31 percent of his pitches.

“It was just pretty good (Sunday),” Cole said. “That's the (amount of) usage that we want.”

Cole usually aims for about 30 percent sliders in a game. That can be adjusted depending upon the other team's lineup.

“Some hitters prefer curveballs over sliders or sliders over curveballs,” Cole said. “It also depends on what's working well for me on a given day.”

During the early part of spring training, Cole put a lot of emphasis on fine-tuning his changeup. The slider was one of the last things he worked on in camp.

“You have to have a lot of arm strength to throw (the slider),” Cole said. “It's not that different from the fastball, and you really have to stay on top of it. If you throw it wrong, it doesn't feel good.”

Cole tried to execute his slider in each of his past three starts. It went OK in his final Grapefruit League outing but not so much in the opener. Sunday was the breakthrough.

“It's taken three times to find it, but I found it (Sunday),” Cole said. “That's the way it is sometimes. You have to let your arm strength build up and then incorporate it.”

Bell better with the glove

Josh Bell played nine innings at first base in the season opener, but he was lifted for a defensive replacement in each of his next two starts. Bell took part in some extra fielding drills Monday afternoon.

Manager Clint Hurdle said he's seeing signs of progress with Bell's defense.

“We'll watch plays that happen during the game that he shows us he can make,” Hurdle said. “It's a touch-and-feel thing. There will be a time when we'll give him that opportunity. Right now, we're best served by giving late-inning opportunities to John (Jaso), Phil (Gosselin) or David (Freese).”

The preferred pecking order for backing up Bell is Freese, Jaso and Gosselin. However, Freese usually will spend much of his time at third while Jung Ho Kang is absent.

If the Pirates are trailing and the pitcher's turn to bat is almost due, Gosselin will replace Bell so Jaso can be used as a pinch hitter.

“It's not just pick one guy and put him in,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle knows how difficult it is to learn on the fly at first base. In 1978, his second year in the majors, Hurdle played 52 games there for the Kansas City Royals.

“I was thrown into first base with a week to go in spring training,” Hurdle said. “I had never played first base before in my life. It was a crash course. I wasn't hit that many balls in games.”

Royals infield coach Chuck Hiller's advice to Hurdle was to be ready every pitch.

“He really worked hard with me to get in a good fielding position when the ball was coming to the hitters, so I would be ready,” Hurdle said. “Then he said, ‘When it's hit, do the best you can. There is no such thing as a bad catch at first base.' He kept it simple, and there were some days when I needed it simple.”

Harrison sits

Josh Harrison's tender right leg kept him out of the lineup Monday, but he took part in pregame infield drills and was available off the bench.

Harrison was struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning of Sunday's game. He stayed in for the rest of that inning and limped as he made his way around the bases to score the Pirates' third run, then was benched in the ninth.

“It tightened up dramatically (during the game), but he felt better this morning,” Hurdle said.

Harrison said he was fortunate to be hit on the right (back) leg.

“If it had hit me on the left leg, it would have gotten a lot more bone,” Harrison said.

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

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