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Pirates notebook: Cole didn't throw sliders in debut

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

The Pirates announced Wednesday that Gerrit Cole will make his second major league start Sunday at PNC Park. He is expected to match up against the Dodgers' Zack Greinke. But in his second career start, will Cole again be without his second-best pitch?

Pirates catcher Russell Martin said Wednesday the 14 breaking balls Cole threw against the Giants in his debut were all curveballs, not sliders. Cole threw mostly fastballs. He delivered 65 fastballs and two changeups among his 81 pitches but did not throw a single slider, which scouts generally believe is Cole's second-best pitch after his fastball.

“I talked to him before the game, and he was like, ‘I'm feeling better about my curveball.' Hence, we threw curveballs,” Martin said. “I talk to him, and I try to feel what he wants to do. He's a power guy. He's going to blow his fastball by guys.”

Scouts also did not see Cole throw many sliders during his Triple-A start last Wednesday. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates have not taken pitches away from Cole.

“There's nothing on the shelf,” Hurdle said. “He's had all four pitches (fastball-changeup-curveball-slider) at any given time. (Tuesday) night was not a night where you saw all four pitches.”

Asked if the Pirates had limited him, Cole said last week the Pirates “aren't anti-anything.”

Baseball Prospectus graded Cole's slider as a 70 this preseason, an elite grade, on baseball's 20-to-80 scouting scale. Wrote Baseball Prospectus: “(The slider) shows big velocity (upper 80s) and sharp, late tilt.”

Without the slider, Cole recorded only two strikeouts and eight swings and misses by the Giants. Perhaps infrequent use of the slider explains Cole's middling Triple-A strikeout rate of 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Even without the slider, Cole was effective. He allowed two runs in 6 13 innings.

Fastest fastball?

Cole's fastball averaged 96.1 mph Tuesday, according to Fangraphs.com. The top average fastball velocity by a starter in baseball this season is 95.5 mph by Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg.

Musical chairs

Charlie Morton will start Thursday for the Pirates against the Giants, returning to the mound 364 days after Tommy John surgery. But will it be a spot start?

“I don't know,” Hurdle said. “This won't be an opportunity to bring guys back and give them three or four starts and hope they get better each time.”

With Cole's debut, James McDonald rehabbing — he allowed five earned runs in six innings Tuesday at Triple-A — and Jeanmar Gomez beginning a rehab assignment Thursday with Indianapolis, there's competition for the Pirates' fifth rotation spot, and perhaps another slot if Wandy Rodriguez (forearm) is out for a while.

Elite company

According to Elias, Cole became only the third Pirates pitcher since 1900 to pitch at least six innings without walking a batter in his debut. In addition, only one other pitcher since 1961 has had a multi-RBI hit in his first MLB plate appearance: Nationals pitcher Tommy Milone, in 2011.

Giants suspended

Major League Baseball announced that Giants right-handed pitcher George Kontos received a three-game suspension and Giants manager Bruce Bochy was hit with a one-game ban for throwing at Andrew McCutchen on Tuesday.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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