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Monday Morning mop-up duty: wrapping up Gerrit Cole week

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PNC PARK – What did Pirates GM Neal Huntington take away from Gerrit Cole‘s first exposure to the big leagues?

 

Sure, there was the fastball that averaged 96 mph and hit 99 a handful of times. It was that express fastball that he leaned on heavily as 130 of his 161 Major League pitches have been fastballs (111 have been strikes).

 

Sure, there was the rare stamina as his final fastball Tuesday reached 98 mph. His final pitch on Sunday was 97 mph. Some of us sat fixed watching radar gun readings.

 

But this is what Huntington said he was most impressed with: “The composure.”

 

“To run a 98 mph fastball in on left-handed hitter on the second pitch of his Major League debut, and then to use his first off-speed pitch as a right-on-right changeup to the reigning MVP (Buster Posey) that’s a great sign,” Huntington said. “It’s a great sign that he’s not trying to throw 150, evening though he’s throwing 99.”

 

The composure was tested Tuesday, as it would be for any player, battling nerves in making a big league debut. Cole’s composure was tested again in different way Sunday as he was without his best stuff, including a complete loss of feel for a breaking ball. But it both starts, in his first 12 Major League innings, he has not walked a batter.

gerrit-cole-pittsburgh-pirates

 So far, so good for Gerrit Cole: 2 MLB starts, 2 wins

 

While Cole can get MLB hitters out, while his fastball and composure were impressive, we also learned in the first week of wawtching Gerrit Cole that he’s still a work in progress.

 

While he has two MLB wins, he has just three strikesout. He’s throwing off-speed pitches just 20 percent of the time.

 

I think the strikeouts will come. They came for Justin Verlander, who averaged just 6.0 strikeouts per nine in his first full Major League seasons. Sometimes big arms don’t produce strikeouts right out of the gates. Cole has been focused on efficiency. He told me he hasn’t thrown his slider, his K pitch, in “a while.” In part due to feel, in part because I believe the Pirates took away from him early on for developmental purposes.

 

Said 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.

 

Indeed.

 

We learned this week that Cole is not a finished product. But we also learned if he can get his slider back, if he can refine the changeup, he can lead a rotation.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS 

9. Pedro Alvarez is quietly on pace for a 35 home run season. Combine that with what I think is improved defense (through agility) at 3B and that’s a valuable, if flawed player. And, again, now would be the ideal time to call Scott Boras (well, actually a month ago.) Why? Boras had Mark Appel sign a bonus $1.4 million below the slot for the No. 1 overall pick. Boras doesn’t typically go below market on anything does he? Is Boras feeling generous.

 

8. In the event Alvarez gets too expensive for the Pirates they could use another power bat to come through the system. And they just might have one.

 

I’m a bigger believer today than I was yesterday that Stetson Allie can become an impact big league bat. It’s not because he now has 17 HRs for Low-A West Virginia. It’s because of his swing.

 

Said Neal Huntington Sunday: “He’s driving the ball to right-center field with authority. … He has a short, clean swing for a big man.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_1zJUqxaKE

 

Allie is not just some big dude swinging from the heels. He’s generating easy power with a short swing. Are there holes in his game? Yes, 79 Ks.

 

7. Jorder Mercer’s coup at shortstop continues. He’s now started four of five games over Clint Barmes at shortstop. Huntington said if the league adjusts to Mercer, Barmes could see a spike in playing time. But that Barmes didn’t start over Mercer against Zack Greinke, who Barmes was 7 of 13 against lifetime, says something about the club’s growing willingness to play Mercer at shortstop.

 

6. Starling Marte’s injury had some unfortunate timing this week: he had tweaked his approach to let the ball travel longer and had his first career four-hit game before being hurt.

 

5. I like the Pirates’ aggressive promotion of Gregory Polanco and Nick Kingham to Double-A. Some of you don’t want to hear it but if, IF, Polanco handles Double-A for a full season, he’s ready to plug the RF hole in June 2014.

 

4. The Pirates have right-handed pitching growing on trees. Tyler Glasnow has had a true breakout, Nick Kingham is elevating his stock and had five shutout innings in his first Double-A start and Luis Heredia, who might be better than all of them, hasn’t even pitched yet this year as the Pirates are taking a conservative approach with the 18-year-old.

 

It’s not just Cole and Jameson Taillon. This bodes well for the Pirates’ future.

 

3. With Marte’s injury Clint Hurdle considered starting both Russell Martin and Brandon Inge in the outfield this week. It shows you the depth concerns the Pirates have against left-handed pitching. Huntington said on Sunday the club is open to looking at some external options for improvement.

 

“There’s no glaring hole,” Huntington said. “There’s certainly ares areas we can upgrade. We have some time available to determine what is available and at what cost.”

 

And with the improved depth in the system, the Pirates could snag a big fish if they chose.

 

2. Hard to believe the Pirates have 41 wins and only Jeff Locke remains as a opening day rotation member not to have visited the DL.

 

1. Still, I think the Pirates are due for some pitching regression, especially with so many bodies on the DL. The offense would do well to find another gear.

 

STAT THAT MIGHT ONLY INTEREST ME: 13

The number of starting pitchers the Pirates have used this season … and they’ve won 40 games. Who would have thought?

 

MODEST PROPOSAL OF THE WEEK: I think it’s time to move Marte down in the order. One, he might press less. Two, his OBP works better in the 5 or 6 spot. I’m again calling for the Travis Snider for lead-off hitter (against righties, anyways).

 

HE SAID IT

*(Gerrit) Cole reminds me of (Mets ace Matt) Harvey a little bit. Looks like he’s a got a big arm.”

- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly

Pirates will take that

 

NON BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION:

Stumbled upon a great Italian place: il pizzaiolo. There’s a location downtown and in Mt. Lebanon. The wood-oven pizzas are excellent as is the gnocchi.

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Comments

  1. RobertoForever says:

    Good Monday Morning to you, Travis.

    Love the Starting Nine. Good quick hits.

    Love even more the ‘next level’ analysis on Gerrit Cole – beating 2 CY Young award winners to start a career. NEVER. Been. Done. Before.

    And now we know he has two more pitches to hone with Searage. Looking forward to seeing him in person. Soon I hope.

  2. Zack says:

    Love the stuff, Travis.

    Alvarez needs to be locked up, as any team can live with a low average high power guy that can change a game with one swing.

    Definitely see Martin catching Cole going forward, he seemed to coax a little more of the off speed stuff from Cole. Once Cole becomes more confident with the off speed stuff, it could be game over for the opposing batters. Seeing what Searage could do with some lesser names, the sky is the limit with Cole right now.

    Speaking of Martin, I really don’t see McKenry staying with the team much longer unless he picks the offense up. He can call a good game, but the bat is dead and frankly he doesn’t throw out base runners. Time for Sanchez? He may have issues, but he can provide what McKenry isn’t right now.

    Don’t expect to see Barmes on the roster come August, I’m sure he will be traded if Mercer can maintain something close to his current numbers.

  3. NMR says:

    I know you’re new to following the Pirates, but you’ll quickly come to find out that Starling Marte “tweaking” his approach happens about as often as Jose Tabata tweaks a hammy.
    .
    He is who he is. He is not changing.
    .
    If there is any truth to the whole “lineup protection” argument, 2nd is the only spot Marte should be moved to. Moving him down in the order only gets him more breaking balls, and we all know what that means.
    .
    Neil Walker should be this teams leadoff hitter, and its not even close right now. Snider is only getting regular starts because Tabby is injured, and his OBP is barely north of .300.

  4. RobertoForever says:

    I would love to see TonyTwoBags up in the Burgh, but I can’t see Hurdle cutting McKenry loose. Or Barmes. Those are Clint’s Mountain boys.

    Plus didn’t we learn from last year, that cutting veterans who are key chemistry guys equals collapse, haha.

  5. BostonsCommon says:

    1. Walker
    2. Mercer
    3. McCutchen
    4. Jones
    5. Martin
    6. Alvarez
    7. Marte
    8. Presley/Snider/Tabata/Can we please have a real RF, please?

    I like the way Mercer has been handling the bat. Guy’s been driving the ball to the right side, consistently moving runners over. And he’s been getting hits out of it too, not just “giving himself up to move a runner over”. Until his bat cools, I ride him at 2. When it does, move Marte back up.

    Walkers BB% (9.4%) and K% (17.9%) dictate that he lead off over Marte (4.6%BB, 21.6%K).

  6. Jim S. says:

    I would try Walker leading off vs. righties and continue with Marte vs. lefties. I’m not sold on where to put Marte when he doesn’t lead off, but Walker is fairly versatile within the lineup. He seems to be improving in his ability to take a walk. I’d probably bat Marte 6th when he doesn’t lead off, but 2nd is a possibility as well. Maybe he would see some fastballs there.

    I don’t see them getting rid of Barmes, and I also don’t see why they’d want to do that. He is not signed after this year, so he only has 90 games left with the Bucs most likely. He can’t hit a lick, but, the guy can field. Why would you not want to keep someone as a late inning defensive replacement and maybe 40% of the time starter while Jordy continues to develop confidence this season? For all of Barmes’ offensive failings, he provides value as a defender.

    If Sanchez shows that he is past whatever throwing issues are being reported, they need to have a look at him very soon. McKenry got a lot of clutch hits last year, but the fact is that he is extremely exposed defensively right now. First base is a turnstile for guys with even average base stealing ability. The dropoff defensively from Martin is immense when the Fort starts. Since Sanchez may do better defensively, while possibly hitting as well as or better than Fort, it is time to find out for sure.

    Still loving your stuff, Travis.

  7. Jim S. says:

    I also forgot to say, Travis, that I see no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that Pedro provides a hometown discount in resigning with the Bucs. The only way that would happen is if he demands that Boras does it by threatening to dump him. I don’t know this, but I have a feeling Appel signing with the Astros for under slot may have been agreed to in advance. The ‘Stros are Appel’s hometown team, and may have signaled to him that they would pick someone else if he didn’t sign under slot. Whether that is true or not, it is definitely true that he wanted to play for them.

    With Pedro, on the other hand, Boras made it as difficult to sign with the Bucs the first time as he possibly could. Pedro seemed to be ok with that strategy at the time, and he has kept Boras as his agent. Boras would never instruct Pedro to accept a discount, and I think Pedro knows exactly how much he is worth. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for him to sign a deal that would help the Bucs, but I just don’t see it.

  8. NMR says:

    I think Appel signing under slot and Alvarez open to extension talk are directly related, but have nothing to do with taking a hometown discount.
    .
    Boras tested the market and found out last year that no team felt Appel was worth over $6m, the reported “under the table” offer from Houston. Would’ve only hurt his client to demand more than anyone was willing to give this year.
    .
    Pedro is no different. He’ll sign an extension if and only if Boras feels the Pirates offer as much or more than what he’ll get as a free agent. Judging by the 1 yr / $6m deal fellow low average/high-k Boras Client Mark Reynolds got last winter, other teams aren’t throwing money around that the Pirates can’t handle.

  9. Terry M says:

    You sure they’ve had 13 starting pitchers? I count 11.

  10. JoeyBats says:

    It’s about time Hurdle starts to transition away from his “best buddy Barmes” !
    .
    Geez….he’s only spent $10.5 mil on someone that continues to hover around the “Mendoza/Inge” line for the last 2 years. :-(
    .
    Let’s go with Jordy and see what he’s got!! I like what we see so far…….

  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    It should be 11. My mistake. Thanks

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    Wish granted

  13. Travis Sawchik says:

    Not a bad start, right?

    Strikeouts are a concern, but you have to like a young kid not being afraid to attack zone

 
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