Pirates starting pitcher Cole growing in his 1st full major-league season

Pirates starter Gerrit Cole delivers to the plate during the third inning against the Cardinals on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, at PNC Park.
Pirates starter Gerrit Cole delivers to the plate during the third inning against the Cardinals on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 7:27 p.m.

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage liked what he saw from Gerrit Cole against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night, but it wasn't necessarily the zip on the fastball or command that impressed him.

As Searage watched Cole backdoor his breaking ball, throw a changeup and then come up and in, he realized the young right-hander was using an analytical approach that Searage believes is a sign of maturation.

“He had a good plan what he wanted to do to each hitter in different counts, and I'm like, ‘Wow, this is the beginning. This is nice to see,'” Searage said. “(In the past), I saw a grip-it-and-rip-it, here-I-am young kid. Now he's more like, ‘I can do this, I'm going to take my time and think things out.' He went over the game plan, things were good, and he went out and did it.”

With two stints on the disabled list, it hasn't been an easy first full major league season for Cole. Tuesday night's outing, however, seemed further evidence that his troubles are in the past.

Cole (7-4, 3.65 ERA) opened the game with a 1-2-3 first inning, and although his pitch count got higher than the Pirates would have liked, he didn't allow a hit until there were two out in the sixth on his 99th pitch of the game. He went out for the seventh and was removed after giving up a pair of hits, but he finished the game with two runs allowed on three hits, one walk that easily could have been a strikeout and nine strikeouts, one shy of matching his season-high set on April 10.

That followed a seven-inning, two-run, six-strikeout performance on Aug. 20, his first major league start since July 4. Cole received no decisions, but the Pirates won both games.

“Physically there's no questions about it,” said Cole, who turns 24 on Sept. 8. “I'm just glad that I've brought out some pretty good stuff the last couple times and gave us a good chance to win.”

Cole said it wasn't easy being on the disabled list for as long as he was.

“I know how much I can help, and I wasn't there to help out for five or six weeks and, gosh, it just makes you feel crappy,” he said. “Come to the field and it's like, I'm going to play catch, do my rehab and run a little bit, and that's going to be it for contributing for the day. So you get frustrated with the fact you can't play, but I'd rather come back and do it right no matter how long it takes than come back and stumble and fall.”

That lesson also was not easy. Cole first went on the DL on June 8 with right shoulder fatigue. He came off June 28 with only simulated games and bullpens to get him ready for game action and got rocked in his return against the New York Mets. He made one more start, then went back on the DL, this time with right lat soreness, on July 9.

“I think a lesson was learned the first time he had an injury,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think he realized there could be more to it. You might feel the way you feel, but to be able to pitch the way you need to pitch, it's two different things. I do think there was some urgency to get back the first time he went down. That's probably a great lesson learned early in his career.”

Searage said he'll take the blame for not pushing for rehab starts the first time Cole came off the DL. He thought they could get away without them, he said.

The second time, however, they insisted on it. Cole made a total of four starts in Triple-A before he was reinstated.

Searage believes the Pirates are seeing a byproduct of the rehab besides the physical strength and delivery.

“(He got to) take a step back and look at things, like hey, I don't have to throw the ball 97 miles an hour every pitch,” Searage said. “I don't have to throw my slider 88 miles an hour every pitch. You'll wear yourself down. He's maturing. Through the rehab and these injuries, you learn to be more patient. It's not a complete project yet, but you're starting to see the next level.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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