Pirates pitcher Cole on DL, but no structural damage to shoulder

Travis Sawchik
| Sunday, June 8, 2014, 12:12 p.m.

So much of the Pirates' hopes in 2014 and beyond rest upon Gerrit Cole's right shoulder. And while the shoulder requires a rest, it's not damaged.

The Pirates have avoided a worst-case scenario involving a key player, perhaps their key player. There has been no structural damage found to Cole's right shoulder, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday.

While the Pirates' young ace and No. 1 overall pick from 2011 officially was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with what the club is describing as “right shoulder fatigue,” Cole does not appear to have suffered significant injury.

While there has been an epidemic of elbow injuries involving young pitchers in professional baseball, Tommy John surgery has a high success rate. Full recovery from structural damage to shoulders is much difficult to achieve.

Cole (6-3, 3.64 ERA) was placed on the DL retroactive to June 4, meaning he's eligible to come off June 19. He will miss at least two scheduled starts. The trip to the disabled list cleared room for Jeff Locke to join the major league roster.

“We talked about ‘Do we just skip and try to bring him back the next time?' At the end of the day we felt like it was probably better to just be aggressive with it now, give him some down time and get that fatigue out of there,” Huntington said. “If everything goes as planned, he'll come right out after the DL stint. But if we need a little more time, we need a little more time. The tests we have done so far confirmed shoulder fatigue. Gerrit feels good with it.”

Huntington was asked what specifically is meant by fatigue?

“Fatigue is fatigue,” Huntington said. “Injuries are gray areas.”

Huntington credited Cole with coming to the club about his shoulder weakness after his last start at San Diego. But Huntington said a number of red flags have arisen regarding Cole. After throwing a high volume of innings last season — 196 — Cole's pitches per start have increased, and his velocity was down late in his last start at San Diego.

Cole said he has never dealt with a shoulder issue like this before. He said he is dealing with “aches” and fatigue. He confirmed tests indicate the injury is muscular in nature.

“I think this is just my body letting me know we need to get this right,” Cole said. “I don't see it as a huge issue. We are on the right path, and I feel much better than I did a few days ago. ... I just didn't bounce back the way I anticipated after the last start. It's frustrating, but at the same time, nip this in the bud right now and this is the last we talk about it.”

Last season, Cole threw 100 or more pitches in four games, this season Cole has done it seven times.

“As you look at it globally, we have a 23-year-old pitcher that pitched in some big situations in the second half of last year that is just coming off of two starts near his home at Los Angeles and San Diego, which adds to the intensity,” Huntington said. “He has pitched a little bit less efficiently than he did a year ago. More pitches per inning. He's pitched with more base runners, which means a little more stress. So even before Gerrit made us aware the shoulder felt a little tired, we had been talking… a little bit about the stress level.”

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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