Cole solid again as Pirates beat Dodgers
What would Gerrit Cole offer as his encore performance? A rerun.
The prized Pirates right-hander's second career start Sunday was much like his first. He threw 81 pitches in his debut and 80 pitches against the Dodgers. In both starts he threw 65 fastballs, relying heavily on the pitch that again registered 93-99 mph.
He again allowed seven hits. He again did not walk a batter. But also like in his first start he did not miss many bats, recording only one strike out.
Most important for the Pirates, Cole finished with another win. The Pirates defeated the Dodgers, 6-3, before a sellout crowd of 37,263 at PNC Park.
Like in his first start, Cole was mostly efficient. He pounded the strike-zone with fastballs that Major League hitters struggled to square up. He again showed his rare stamina. His final fastball traveled 97 mph in the sixth. In his debut, his final fastball was 98 mph.
But unlike his debut, Cole worked behind in more counts.
“He pitched much better in the first start,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He just had to compete today. He didn't have much of a breaking ball. ... He went at them hard, in and out and up and down, pitching with an edge.”
Cole hoped to log more than 52⁄3 innings.
“They did a good job with battling the fastball and putting it in play,” Cole said. “I'm just thankful we played really good defense.”
Still, for all the hype and early success for Cole, he remains a work in progress.
Cole threw only 15 offspeed pitches Sunday.
In the fourth, he left a changeup up to Adrian Gonzalez, who sent the pitch to the left-field warning track. Cole fell into a crouch on the mound and winced, thinking he allowed a home run.
Fastballs are not often swing-and-miss pitches. Even Detroit ace Justin Verlander averaged just six strikeouts per nine innings in his first full major league season. Cole averaged 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A.
Scouts agree that Cole's second-best pitch, his strikeout pitch, is his slider. But like in his first start, Cole shelved the slider in favor of his curveball.
“I haven't thrown (the slider) in a while,” Cole said. “I'm just sticking with (the curveball) right now. It could change by my next start. Maybe the other one feels good. It's a luxury to have two.”
Said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington: “As his slider becomes a comfort pitch, as we get the curveball back to being the hard-tilting curveball, as he continues developing confidence in that changeup, and runs out those four weapons, he can be a very successful major league pitcher.
“He still has some work to do, but he is off to a very encouraging start.”
Still, even as a one-pitch pitcher, Cole is effective because his one pitch averages 96 mph.
Most of the Dodgers' contact against Cole was weak. Gonzalez had the only extra-base hit off Cole, lining a double to left in the sixth. Andre Ethier followed with a single to right to score Gonzalez and cut the Pirates' lead to 5-3, ending Cole's day.
The other damage against Cole came when Yasiel Puig singled, stole second and later scored on a Tim Federowicz groundout in the second. In the fourth, Ethier hit a soft liner into left to score Nick Punto.
Cole was more efficient than Dodgers' starter Zack Greinke.
Greinke needed 29 pitches to get through the first-inning when Garrett Jones lined a two-run double to right, scoring Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen.
Mercer went 2 for 4 in the game, raising his average to .289. Mercer started over Clint Barmes at shortstop for the fourth time in five games despite Barmes' 7-for-13 line against Greinke in his career.
With two on in the fifth, Greinke hung a curveball to Pedro Alvarez, who lined the pitch beyond the center-field fence for his 15th home run of the season. The shot gave the Pirates a 5-2 lead.
“We know Greinke is a different pitcher on the road than at home,” Hurdle said. “We needed someone to click one, and Pedro clicked one.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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