Pirates' Cole calls demotion to Triple-A 'frustrating'

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, March 18, 2013, 5:45 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gerrit Cole's performance this spring seemed worthy of a spot in the Pirates' starting rotation. And Cole certainly gained the respect of his peers, with whom he shared hugs Monday morning after being reassigned to minor league camp.

“It's frustrating, because I pitched well,” Cole said.

In three Grapefruit League games, Cole posted a 3.60 ERA. The right-hander pitched 10 innings, allowed eight hits and two walks, and struck out seven.

Management still expects Cole, the top overall pick in 2011, to someday headline the rotation. Among the team's top half-dozen prospects, he is the closest to being major league-ready.

Sending Cole to Triple-A Indianapolis gives him time to refine his skills. If he stays there until mid-June, it also buys the Pirates time by keeping Cole from accruing service time toward possible Super 2 arbitration status and a quicker path to free agency.

“Everybody's going to speculate why he's being sent out, and they're wrong,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He's being sent out because in our minds he's not ready to compete and be successful at the major league level and be one of those top-of-the-rotation starters. That's our goal for him. However long it takes is how long he'll be in Triple-A.

“He's incredibly confident, incredibly driven. He has the stuff that you hope to build rotations around. We've just got to make it consistent.”

In 2012, Cole, 22, pitched 13 games at High-A Bradenton, 12 games at Double-A Altoona and one game at Indy. He also started and lost Game 2 of Indy's first-round playoff matchup against Charlotte, allowing eight runs in two innings.

“They put a hurting on him, which was a great experience for him,” Huntington said. “I think he's better for it. Triple-A hitters are going to make him work; they're going to set him up and jump him. Major league hitters will do the same thing, except they're better.”

Huntington was impressed by Cole's fastball and command in camp, but said his breaking balls and changeup weren't as good as last summer.

Cole gave up at least one run in each of his Grapefruit League outings. He got in a handful of jams against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday but wound up yielding just one run in five innings.

“A start against the Twins with half their ‘A' lineup in there in the middle of March is very different than a start against a playoff-caliber team with its full lineup in the middle of May,” Huntington said. “There's no question he learned some valuable lessons here in camp.”

Cole pitched 132 innings in the minors last season, plus the work he did in Instructional League. Huntington doesn't expect Cole will have his innings capped this year.

“It's not going to be something we take a look at every time out,” Huntington said. “I don't think we want him to get to 250 innings this year, but he's going to be free to go.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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