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Pirates notebook: Prized prospect Cole may make pitching debut Tuesday

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 2:27 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates prospect Gerrit Cole pitches during a spring training game in Bradenton, Fla.

CHICAGO — There are indications that Pirates top prospect Gerrit Cole will make his major league debut Tuesday at PNC Park against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Two industry sources said Friday that Cole is “very much” a candidate to start in place of injured lefty Wandy Rodriguez. Management is not worried about the possibility of Cole gaining Super 2 status if he pitches Tuesday.

The Pirates have not named their starter for the game. General manager Neal Huntington declined to say whether Cole has been picked as Rodriguez's replacement.

“We expect that the starter for Tuesday will come from within,” Huntington said in a text message. “We will let you know who it is when we can.”

In 12 starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, Cole is 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA. The right-hander's past three outings have been quality starts.

On Tuesday, on the eve of what might have been his final start for Indy, Cole was asked if he believes he's ready to pitch in the majors. He did not hesitate.

“I have to answer yes,” Cole said. “I'm not going to say no. I don't think anyone is going to say no. A guy in A ball would be like, ‘(Heck), yeah, I'm ready. Bring me up!' ”

The next day, Cole tossed seven shutout innings against Durham.

If Cole is called up Tuesday, it will be a while before the Pirates know whether he'll qualify as a Super 2. That status is given to the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service time and at least 86 days' service in the previous year.

Because it's computed using service time of a large group of players, the “deadline” for Super 2 status is a moving target. Many front office executives say the cutoff this year likely will be on or around Monday.

Super 2 players gain a fourth year of salary arbitration eligibility, which makes their salaries climb higher faster. The Pirates have two Super 2 players: Neil Walker (who's making $3.3 million in his first year of eligibility) and Garrett Jones (who's making $4.5 million in his second year).

Catcher Russell Martin is looking forward to working with the former first-round pick after seeing Cole in spring training.

“The biggest thing I remember is he was just filthy,” Martin said.

Cole's call-up likely would produce a noticeable bump in ticket sales. The Pirates already are expecting a crowd of at least 20,000 for Tuesday's game.

Rodriguez in limbo

Doctors found no acute structural damage to ligaments in Rodriguez's left elbow. He was sore before making his start Wednesday and was forced to leave in the first inning.

Rodriguez was not placed on the disabled list, although that remains a possibility. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Monday at PNC Park. If all goes well, Rodriguez might start Thursday. If he reaggravates the elbow, Rodriguez will go on the DL.

“He doesn't feel terribly (sore) and wants to see if he can push through this,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We're going to ramp up the bullpen, and he's got to come out of it with flying colors. If not, we're going to head (to the DL).”

McDonald rusty

A rival team's scout who saw James McDonald's rehab start Thursday with Indy said the right-hander looked rusty. McDonald worked 3 23 innings and allowed three runs on four hits, walked one and struck out two.

“He still has challenges, (and they are) not so much health related,” Hurdle said. “Command challenges. Controlling the running game challenges.”

Durham stole 10 bases, seven against McDonald. He threw 77 pitches but did not make it out of the fourth inning.

“You'd like to see him get deeper than that, especially with that volume of pitches,” Hurdle said. “But it didn't happen. He's still got to keep working.”

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

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