Top hitters bring out best in Pirates rookie Cole
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Pirates rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole doesn't get much of a charge from facing batters at the bottom of the lineup. After all, what challenge is there in getting some lightweight to roll over another ground ball?
The innings Cole looks forward to are the ones when the heart of the order is due up.
“The best guys are fun,” Cole said. “They hit really good pitches. You don't even worry about throwing strikes to them. Then a guy like Albert (Pujols) or (Mike) Trout comes in the box, you just worry about throwing quality pitches, because they can hit anything in the zone.”
Friday night, Cole faced Trout, the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up, with two outs in the third inning. The first pitch was a 100 mph sinker for a called strike. If Cole could get Trout to chase the next one, he'd really be in control.
Cole fired a 96 mph four-seamer, low and away. An average hitter would've flailed at it. But Trout whacked it high and so deep that center fielder Andrew McCutchen had to retreat to the warning track to make the catch.
“He drove it to center pretty well — and I don't even think that was a strike,” Cole said, grinning. “You just try to make quality pitches and let the defense work for you. Things are in your favor when you keep attacking like that.”
Trout wound up going 0 for 4, and that flyout was the only ball he got out of the infield. The Nos. 3-5 hitters in the Angels' lineup — Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick — went a combined 1 for 8 against Cole.
Over the first six innings, Cole held the Angels to two singles. The 22-year-old gave up two runs in the seventh, including his first home run —a solo shot by Pujols, who always seems to produce against the Pirates.
The 5-2 victory made Cole the first Pirates pitcher to win the first three starts of his career since Myrl Brown in 1922.
What made it even sweeter for Cole was that he did it at Angel Stadium, less than an hour's drive from the fields where he played Little League, high school and college ball.
“He pitched like he was pitching in front of his friends and family,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He got after it. He was pitching in his hometown, and he wasn't going to let anybody down.”
As a kid, Cole went to plenty of Angels games — enough, he said, to have “more than a few” giveaway rally monkeys stashed at his parents' home in nearby Newport Beach.
“Somebody asked me when did it hit me that I was playing here,” Cole said. “When they started playing the song they always play before the game, ‘Calling All Angels.' I've been listening to that song since I was 6 years old. That's when I took a step back, and I was like, ‘Whoa, Angel Stadium.' ''
Cole savored the moment, but he did not allow it to faze him. Catcher Russell Martin helped out by telling Cole to go right at the Angels with his fastball — eight of them were clocked at 100 mph — and, for the first time in three big league starts, mixing in some sliders.
“It's really a one-way relationship,” Cole said of working with Martin, an eight-year veteran. “He puts down the finger, and I throw it. He knows these guys a lot better than I do. He knows the game better than I do. It's nice to have guys like that to trust and lean on.”
Over his first two starts, Cole got just three strikeouts. On Friday, he whiffed three batters by the third inning, including Pujols twice. Cole finished with five strikeouts. The final one came in the sixth inning, when he whizzed a 2-2 slider past Trout.
A pair of sliders helped undo Pujols in the fourth inning. Pujols took the first one for a called strike and fouled off the second to even the count at 2-2. Cole came back with a 92 mph fastball, low and away, and Pujols went down swinging.
In the seventh inning, Cole took a line drive off his left thigh. He's sporting a nasty bruise but doesn't expect it to keep him from taking his next turn on the mound.
“It's pretty sore,” Cole said with a laugh. “Good thing I've got fat legs. I think I'll be all right.”