Cole, Bucs thwarted by Rockies, 4-2
Gerrit Cole has authored an impressive rookie campaign. The majority of his starts have been defined as quality outings, and he's been a stabilizing force in a Pirates rotation that has dealt with injury.
But Cole is far from a finished product as evidenced in the Pirates' 4-2 loss to the Rockies on Friday at PNC Park. He's far from reaching his ceiling, that of staff ace.
“There were times when he wasn't able to put away hitters,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “First-pitch strikes were OK, but the thing that was missing tonight was early contact.”
It hasn't yet all come together for Cole, who was not helped by another poor offensive showing by the Pirates. The team has scored two or fewer runs in five of its past nine games.
Foul balls escalated his pitch count, and Cole's breaking pitches were inconsistent as he failed to pitch through the sixth, allowing three runs over 51⁄3 innings. Cole (5-5) allowed three hits, walked two and struck out six.
While his slider is improving, quieting one of the chief concerns about him — his below average strikeout rate — the pitch remains inconsistent.
Cole has struck out 14 in his past two starts covering 111⁄3 innings. The spike in strikeouts has been tied to increased confidence and use of his slider.
But Cole also left a flat slider out over the plate to Troy Tulowitzki in the second inning that the Rockies shortstop lined into the left-field seats for a solo homer.
“I can't really tell you where it ended up other than it landed in the third row,” Cole said. “I probably threw him one too many (sliders). I think I threw three in a row.”
In the sixth, Corey Dickerson slashed a hanging Cole slider into right, advancing Dexter Fowler to third.
The velocity was there — Cole hit 99 mph several times and 100 mph once — but the other element working against him was his ability to put away hitters.
Cole walked Fowler to begin the sixth and was relieved by Justin Wilson after Dickerson's single because he had reached 102 pitches. Wilson allowed back-to-back RBI hits to Tulowitzki and Helton, giving the Rockies a 4-1 lead.
“I would have liked to have been a little more efficient tonight,” Cole said. “Some of that is stuff I can't control. With two strikes, there was a lot of weak foul balls. All you can do is stay patient and keep making pitches.”
Cole still is learning to control what he can. What he can't control is his run support, and it was lacking again for a Pirates starter.
The Pirates' first run came via an Andrew McCutchen RBI single in the third, which tied the score at one. Pedro Alvarez followed by grounding into an inning-ending double play, killing a potential rally. It was one of three double plays on the night for the Pirates.
The Pirates' only other run came in the ninth, when McCutchen and Alvarez hit back-to-back doubles.
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin (10-5) was efficient, allowing one run and six hits over eight innings. He recorded 10 groundouts.
“His command was electric,” Hurdle said.
There's also another concern that Cole has no control over: How long he will pitch this season? Cole logged 150 innings in 2012, including work after the season in instruction league. He has thrown 129 innings this season.
Hurdle said Friday the Pirates have a “systematic plan” in place to keep Cole pitching. Pirates GM Neal Huntington told MLB Network radio Saturday that Cole will pitch into October if his stuff stays sharp.
Cole says he feels strong and doesn't know what the Pirates have planned for his workload.
“I almost don't want to know,” Cole said, “because I don't want to think about it.”
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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