Pirates, Cole fall to Phillies, drop series

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 4:54 p.m.

Things that went right for Pirates rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole in the first four starts of his career did not go quite as smoothly Thursday in a 6-4 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole worked 5 13 innings — his shortest outing — and gave up eight hits, which tied his season high. In the pivotal sixth inning, when the Phillies scored four runs, Cole was squeezed by the home plate umpire and let down by the bullpen.

Also, Cole pitched for the first time without much of a safety net. The Pirates scored just two runs while he was in the game and their late rally fell short.

“He's learning every day,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “When the kid first showed up here, I said he'd pitch with an edge, and he's done that.”

After losing two of three to the Phillies, the Pirates have the second-most wins (52) in the majors behind the Red Sox (53). It's the first time the Pirates dropped a series since June 3-5, when they were swept by the Braves.

Going into Thursday's game, Cole (4-1) had enjoyed the best run support — 7.25 runs per game — among all big league starters who'd thrown at least 20 innings.

Phillies starter Cole Hamels (3-11) usually can only dream of that kind of support. Over his previous 15 starts, the Phillies scored 30 runs while he was on the mound. No pitcher in the National League had less of a cushion in that stretch.

The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the third inning with help from an error by second baseman Chase Utley. With two outs, Starling Marte singled to right field. Jose Tabata hit a grounder deep into the hole at short; Jimmy Rollins got there, but Utley muffed the throw. That put runners on second and third.

After Andrew McCutchen fouled off a 93 mph fastball to even the count at 2-2, Hamels tried to slip in an 85 mph changeup. McCutchen went with the pitch and bounced it up the middle for a two-run single.

Cole had success early in the game with his changeup and curveball. By the sixth, though, he was elevating too many pitches for Hurdle's liking.

“I executed a few good (breaking balls) early but probably could've done a little bit better later,” Cole said. “I've got to get ahead of guys better.”

Ryan Howard drew a one-out walk in the sixth, benefiting from a couple of ball calls by umpire Chris Conroy on pitches that seemed to be on the black.

“It's called the black because it can go either way,” Cole said. “I don't know if they were strikes or balls. They were quality pitches, and that's all you can worry about.”

Domonic Brown singled to right, knocking Cole out of the game. Cole threw just 78 pitches, the fewest he'd thrown in any game — in the minors or majors — this season since April 10, when he threw 63 in his second start with Triple-A Indianapolis.

“It was a combination of the ball being elevated throughout the game and ... we wanted to be smart and match up to keep them at one (run),” Hurdle said.

It didn't work out that way. In came right-hander Vin Mazzaro, who tossed five perfect innings in his previous outing Sunday. This time, Mazzaro faced four batters and did not get an out.

Kevin Frandsen's RBI bloop single tied the game and Carlos Ruiz's two-run single gave Philadelphia the lead.

After nicking Hamels with a pitch, Mazzaro was replaced by Tony Watson. Ben Revere reached on a fielder's choice grounder that scored Frandsen to make the score 5-2.

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

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