Pirates' Gerrit Cole grinds out victory over Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — The final batter he faced somewhat emblematic of his night, Gerrit Cole needed seven pitches to retire a stubborn Andrew Knapp swinging on a 93 mph changeup low and in.
It wasn't the most efficient. It wasn't the most flashy. It had its moments where it seemed as if the whole thing would collapse. But Cole was effective enough, tying a season high with eight strikeouts and almost hitting a season high for pitch count in a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
"Ideally, we all would like to pitch like Clayton Kershaw every night," said Cole, who also had a two-run single. "But we're just not all Clayton Kershaw. So as a starter, your main job is to get deep into the ballgame and keep your team in the game, so I definitely take a lot of pride in that."
Seventy-five of Cole's 113 pitches were strikes. Daniel Hudson, Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero added a scoreless inning each for a staff that quietly has allowed just 13 runs in the past five games.
David Freese reached base three times and had an RBI and a run for the Pirates (39-46).
While Cole (7-7) has yet to ascend to the status of elite ace that is expected of a former No. 1 overall draft pick, he has developed into a reliable, workmanlike starter.
Cole hasn't missed a start this season and ranks in the top 10 in the National League in innings. In 13 starts since May 1, Cole is averaging six innings and 100.2 pitches per start. He has worked into the fifth inning of every outing this season, and he has gotten through five in all but two of his 19 starts.
"He understands the importance of his role in the rotation," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He wants to go out there every night and pitch deep or throw 100-plus pitches, whatever he can to keep us away from the bullpen.
"He has a starter's mentality from that aspect. … He loves that level of competition: that fifth day, he thrives on it."
Not all of Cole's starts have been pretty — three times during June, for example, Cole was charged with seven runs — but he has at least avoided the early-inning meltdowns that decimated the bullpen and often had the Pirates out of the game before it even started.
That looked like a possibility Wednesday when Maikel Franco gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead three batters into the game when he homered. Four of the first seven and six of the first 13 Philadelphia batters reached.
But despite never finding his slider, Cole's changeup and fastball command improved as the game progressed. Only two of the final 13 batters reached (both singles), and nobody else scored.
A turning point might have come after Cole's only walk.
With two outs and a man on in the second, Cole threw two consecutive low fastballs to Daniel Nava that were called balls by home plate umpire Larry Vanover. According to MLB's Statcast, the second one was well within the strike zone.
"It was fascinating how some of (pitches) were balls," Cole said, sarcastically, afterward.
Cervelli came to the mound after the pitch to Nava, but Cervelli said Vanover was upset with Cervelli.
"(Vanover) had some things to say before he even got on the mound," Cole said.
Cervelli and Vanover had words, with Cole playing a peacekeeper role. Hurdle came out to speak with Vanover, too.
When play resumed, Cole got Freddy Galvis to fly out. Cervelli and Vanover had a lengthy chat that increasingly became amicable. It ended with both men patting the other gently on the back of the head.
Cole largely cruised through his four innings thereafter.
Every player in the Pirates starting lineup had at least a hit or a run. Jordy Mercer was the only player with two hits (one was an RBI triple). But Cole was the only Pirate with two RBIs. His two-out, two-run single to center in the fourth gave the Pirates the lead for good.
Defense contributed, too. Nava tried to score on a fly ball in the seventh, but right fielder Gregory Polanco threw him out at the plate to end the inning.
"Right now it doesn't matter how beautiful we win games," Cervelli said. "The important thing is that we win games."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.