PNC PARK – Gerrit Cole neared reaching an interesting threshold Friday night. He completed his 129th inning of the season, if you combine Triple-A and MLB innings.
Why does that matter? It matters because he threw 132 innings last season across three levels of professional baseball, 150 if you count his 18 innings in instructional league.
It matters because some teams have become very careful in handling young pitchers. The Nationals most famously shut down Stephen Strasburg last season after he reached 160 innings — while in the middle of pennant race. The Nationals assumed they’d be right back in postseason contention this season. Whoops.
“There was no science to it,” injury expert Will Carroll told me of the decision to shut down Strasburg.
Still, many teams are hesitant to increase a young pitcher’s innings count by 25 percent from year-to-year. If you use Cole’s 150 innings as his 2012 total, a 25 percent increase would place in him at 187.6 innings for 2013.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington tole me earlier this year he’d let me know if Cole has a workload limit if he ever “gets there.”
Huntington told MLB Network radio yesterday that Cole can pitch into October if his stuff “stays sharp” and that there’s no Strasburg-like innings cap in place. And Strasburg was coming off Tommy John surgery, Cole is healthy. Cole doesn’t look fatigued. He hit 100 mph once and 99 mph three times by my count.
I asked Pirates manager Clint Hurdle if Cole faces a workload limit last night.
Said Hurdle: “We have a systematic plan in place to keep him pitching.”
What does Cole know about the plan?
“I don’t have any information on that. It’s something that I almost don’t want to know because I don’t want to think about….. I’m sure they are talking about something, I’d have to assume. It’s been brought quite a bit to my attention by the press. As far as I’m concerned I’m just preparing to start every fifth day.”
(Will Cole be pitching into late September? Indications are he will be)
But here’s why Cole will pitch into October IF the Pirates make it there: he’s been on the C.C. Sabathia Plan of 2001, not the Strasburg Plan of 2012.
Cole reached 100 pitches – 102 – last night for just the first time of his career.
By August 2 of last season, Strasburg had thrown at least 100 pitches in eight games. The Nationals did manage his innings early in the season. The Pirates are with Cole.
Here is what I wrote back in late June before I sojourned to Europe:
But here’s the other reason why I believe Cole will be pitching in September: the Pirates are already being careful with Cole.
My guess is the Pirates are not on the Strasburg 2012 plan, they are on the C.C. Sabathia plan of 2001 or theChris Sale plan of 2012. They are shaving innings and pitches where they can so Cole can pitch in September.
Sabathia surprisingly broke camp with the Indians in 2001 as a 21-year-old and his workload was monitored. He made 33 starts but pitched just 180.1 innings, averaging 5.4 innings per start, and that was by design (And Huntington was with the Indians during that time period).
The Pirates have been similarly careful with Cole.
Cole is on pace to throw about 190 innings through the end of the regular season. He will just cross that arbitrary 25 percent, threshold of danger.
And if he makes it to October, if the Pirates make it to October, it’s hard to believe they – like the Nationals chose – will shut down one of their top three or four arms. But unlike the Nationals, they’ve managed Cole’s arm as if they plan to play in October.