Starting pitcher Cole, Pirates get knocked around by rival Brewers
MILWAUKEE — Prior to Carlos Gomez's first at-bat Tuesday, Gerrit Cole said, the Brewers center fielder gave him a head nod and Cole returned it. The two primary figures in last month's Easter brawl apparently were ready put the past behind them. Cole's first pitch Tuesday was for a strike, not in Gomez's back.
They moved on with no escalation and back to normalcy: the Brewers beating the Pirates, 5-2, at Miller Park. The Brewers have won seven of eight games from the Pirates this season.
Cole eventually might become a legit No. 1 and staff ace, but the path to such lofty status never promised to be easy, predictable or linear.
After a dominant September and October to help push the Pirates into the postseason, Cole's satisfactory-but-not-great 2014 continued Tuesday.
Cole (3-3, 3.76 ERA) allowed three runs and 11 base runners over 52⁄3 innings. He exited with runners on and with an elevated pitch count.
At what essentially is his quarter-pole — through eight starts — Cole's strikeout rate roughly is equal to where it was a year ago, but he's walking half a batter more per nine innings, and his ERA is a half run higher compared to his rookie season.
“I had some opportunities to finish guys off. I didn't. I had some opportunities to locate the fastball better. I didn't,” Cole said. “Those are the things you go and you work on.”
Cole was not great Tuesday but he also was not aided by the Pirates' bats, which went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Brewers starter Marco Estrada cooled what had been a hot Pirates offense in May. The Pirates (16-22) were hitting .303 as a team in the month entering Miller Park, which traditionally is inhospitable to the Pirates' interests.
Estrada boasts of one of the game's better changeups, a pitch that perplexed the Pirates last season. Estrada recorded eight strikeouts and three were swinging via changeups. Estrada walked two, allowed one run — a Neil Walker solo homer in the first — and six hits over six innings.
Context is needed with Cole. It's important to remember a year ago Cole was in Triple-A working on handling in-game emotions. Tuesday, the 23-year-old was tested in one of the more hostile environments of his young career.
Cole is a public enemy in Milwaukee, hearing boos from 24,000 at Miller Park each time he came to bat and when he slowly exited the game in the sixth.
Cole's pure stuff was as good as it had been all season.
He got Ryan Braun to swing over the top of a sharp-breaking curve in the fifth. He locked up Logan Schafer with a fading 88 mph changeup and struck out Lyle Overbay looking at a 98 mph fastball.
“He's the kind of the guy where the day will come where he is going to hand the ball to the closer. He needs to pitch. He needs to get reps,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He had to do some yard work.”
In the third, Cole jammed Jonathan Lucroy with a pitch that went for a two-run, two-out single as Josh Harrison was playing deep in right field and didn't appear to have a great jump on the ball. The hit gave the Brewers a 2-1 lead and scored Schafer and Gomez. Gomez reached after by being hit with an up-and-in changeup from Cole, though Cole said there was no intent behind the pitch.
“I've read his comments, and I'm sure he's read mine,” Cole said. “Pretty much everyone is on the same page. … It happened, it happened. We moved on.”
Cole's fastball command was inconsistent Tuesday, another focus of his time at Triple-A.
In the sixth, Brewers shortstop Jean Segura lined a 96 mph Cole fastball out over the plate into the left-center gap for a double. With two outs, Jordy Mercer had to range far to his left to field a Rickie Weeks grounder, and Segura scored on the infield hit to give the Brewers' a 3-1 lead. Cole again was visibly frustrated, in what has seemed like a season of one frustration after another for the Pirates.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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