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.
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.
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.”
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.