Pirates notebook: Cole struts stuff, but can he stick?

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 5:39 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gerrit Cole will face far greater challenges in his career than the lineup of Spain's World Baseball Classic entry, which probably matched up at a Double-A level. But the Pirates' top prospect seemed to take it seriously, anyway.

He struck out the first six batters he faced.

He struck out the first two on seven pitches.

He struck out the third with a fastball so overwhelming that Rafael Alvarez's bat wound up in the seats.

In all, Cole tossed three scoreless innings with two singles and a walk in the 10-0 shutout of Spain on Tuesday at McKechnie Field.

Something to prove?

“I just treated it like every other start, tried to nail the delivery in the bullpen and take it out to the game,” Cole said. “I wanted to be aggressive.”

To this point in the spring, Cole has been charged with one run and has seven strikeouts over five innings. But it would appear he's just warming up. In his first outing Feb. 27, radar guns tapped his fastball at 91 mph to 92 mph. On Tuesday, it was 94 mph to 97 mph, closer to the norm.

Cole, of course, is capable of triple-digits.

“He went out there with a purpose and intent,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I loved the pace and rhythm. I loved the downhill angle of the fastball, the low strikes, the breaking ball was sharp. ... It was a very good day for Cole.”

The question is, will it matter?

Cole was told entering spring training that he was in the rotation mix, but nothing the Pirates have said publicly supports that. Earlier this week, pitching coach Ray Searage cited four others — Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez, Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke — as the candidates for the final opening.

“They haven't told me I'm out,” Cole said. “I'm still here. As long as I'm still here, I feel like I've got a chance.”

Asked what Cole needs to do the rest of this spring, Hurdle replied simply: “He needs to go pitch. That's all.”

Gaby gone wild

Gaby Sanchez's encouraging spring continued with a home run hit so far it might have made it all the way to Madrid. It came in the fifth inning, and it cleared the new grandstand high above left field, roof and all.

“They ever find it?” Sanchez asked afterward.

Not in the bleachers.

Sanchez is 5 for 13 in Grapefruit League action, with two home runs and a double. He keeps crediting his surge on the renewed health of his right knee.

“It just feels like things are back to normal more than anything.”

Wasted strategy

Sanchez played third base again, part of the Pirates' plan to expand his defensive options. But he did so while Cole was dealing. Not one ball came his way.

Or any way, most of the time.

“I might as well have been out there with my arms folded,” Sanchez said. “The kid's good.”

Recovery bay

Jeff Karstens (shoulder) pitched a two-inning live batting practice Tuesday and said afterward he expects to be ready for the start of the season. He'll need another live BP before pitching in a spring game.

Russell Martin (shoulder) could “probably” resume catching as soon as Saturday, Hurdle said.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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