Pirates notebook: Cole could return to rotation next week

Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole shags fly balls in the outfield during batting practice after throwing a simulated game Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole shags fly balls in the outfield during batting practice after throwing a simulated game Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Travis Sawchik
| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 6:48 p.m.

Gerrit Cole completed a simulated game Wednesday, a critical step in returning from the shoulder fatigue that landed him on the disabled list.

Cole faced live batters and threw all of his pitches at PNC Park. He was scheduled to throw 60 pitches. Cole is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday though the earliest he likely would return to the starting rotation is in Tampa Bay next week. Cole is scheduled for a bullpen session Friday.

“I was looking for downhill plane, velocity and life on the ball. … It was all there,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “The breaking ball wasn't the sharpest, but that is to be expected.”

Manager Clint Hurdle was pleased with what he saw.

“Was there some rust? Yes. Were there some good fastballs? Did the velocity show up? Yes,” Hurdle said. “The changeup was good. The hitters were giving him good reads and good at-bats.

“We'll see how he feels (Thursday). That's the most important.”

Hurdle backs Grilli

Jason Grilli has not been the same dominant closer he was in the first half of last season. His latest struggle came Tuesday when he allowed a game-winning home run to the Reds' Todd Frazier. Grilli's strikeout rate is down by nearly five strikeouts per nine innings, and his walk rate has nearly doubled.

“The velocity is there. I don't think there is a heightened uneasiness for me, by any means,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes I think it bodes well to give players an opportunity to push through some challenging times rather than run to their aid or overreact and say, ‘We need to make a change right now.'

“I do believe we'll make decisions that need to be made at the time they need to be made in the best interest of the ballclub.”

Everyday J-Hey?

Josh Harrison has been pushed out of right field due to Gregory Polanco's arrival and soon will be forced to vacate second base with Neil Walker closing in on a return. Still, Hurdle is determined to find Harrison regular playing time.

“We need to find playing time for Josh. He's playing tremendous baseball,” Hurdle said. “He's added an edge for us. … His enthusiasm and energy drips onto the other guys, as well.”

Does Hurdle think Harrison's level of play is sustainable?

“I believe in Josh. Let's give him an opportunity to prove it. Let's find out and see where it goes,” Hurdle said. “It's been a joy to watch, has it not?”

Liriano sees silver lining

Francisco Liriano sees one positive in his oblique strain: The down time will allow him to get completely healthy. Liriano revealed that not only was he dealing with a groin strain out of spring training, he also had elbow discomfort early this season.

“The groin was killing me since spring training, and my elbow was bothering me a lot, not now, but the first couple starts,” Liriano said. “I didn't tell anybody (about the elbow). It was not that bad. It was just real tight. It feels good now.”

Walker update

Walker took swings against Cole during the simulated game Wednesday. Walker swung without pain and said he could travel to Bradenton, Fla., later this week to work out with the Pirates' High-A affiliate. The Pirates travel to Tampa Bay next week.

“Any time you face Cole, it's not any fun,” Walker said. “I was able to get my swings off, which is all I'm trying to do. … I didn't have any problems.”

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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