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Pirates won't say if they'll limit Cole's workload

| Monday, June 24, 2013, 8:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole delivers during the first inning against the Giants on Tuesday, June 11, 2013, at PNC Park.

Gerrit Cole has made an immediate impact following his call-up, but will the prized rookie pitcher still be on the mound in September if the Pirates are playing meaningful baseball?

The baseball industry has managed young arms carefully in recent years, the most notable case being the Nationals' controversial decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after their ace reached a predetermined innings limit last season despite the Nationals being in the midst of a postseason chase.

Does Cole face a similar innings cap if he remains with the Pirates?

Neal Huntington declined to answer Monday when asked if a specific innings cap for Cole exists, but the Pirates' GM indicated Cole is a considerable distance from reaching his workload limit.

“Part of our development plan is to build guys accordingly so that when they get to the big leagues, they are hopefully in a position to be able to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten,” Huntington said. “If he ever gets to his workload limit, we'll let you know.”

Cole threw 132 minor league innings last season in his first pro campaign; the 6-foot-4, 250-pound right-hander also pitched in instructional league.

Some organizations are hesitant to raise young pitchers' workloads by more than 25 percent from year to year. The Pirates have been careful with Cole in each of his first three major league starts. He has not thrown more than 88 pitches or pitched longer than 6 13 innings.

Cole has thrown a combined 86 13 innings this season between Triple-A and the majors.

But there is a significant difference between Strasburg and Cole: Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in 2010; Cole has been healthy throughout his pro career.

Still, would the Pirates consider skipping several Cole starts or moving him to the bullpen if he was in jeopardy of reaching an innings limit?

“Each case is a unique entity,” Huntington said. “We would approach it with a well thought-out … scientifically based plan.”

Cole is 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA; he won each of his first three major league starts. He beat former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke in his first two starts and touched 100 mph a number of times against the Angels on Friday.

Whether all of Cole's innings in 2013 are to be with the big league club remains to be seen. Cole could be a candidate to return to the minor leagues when A.J. Burnett (calf) returns to the rotation.

Said Huntington over the weekend: “There's a business component to it, as far as keeping our depth. … Gerrit's probably got the best stuff of anybody in the rotation ... (and) he's made three impressive outings. But the challenge is, if we need another starter (due to injury) later, it may make sense to send Gerrit back so we have a sixth quality starter.”

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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