SAN DIEGO – Most 22-year-olds are still in early chapters of professional development. They are developing in chosen careers. They are perhaps developing as seniors at universities. They are interns. They are fetching coffee. They are in grad school. Something like that.
Pirates rookie is Gerrit Cole is still developing in his chosen line of work, too.
The fastball command is still a work in progress. He left too many fastballs up, too many two-seamers running back over the plate in allowing 10 hits to the Padres in a 2-1 loss Wednesday.
The slider is still a pitch in development. It’s improved, mostly responsible for his 8.1 K rate in the second half,vs. his 5.4 K rate in the first half, but as we saw in the Arizona start and Wednesday’s start, it’s not yet a consistent put-away pitch, like a Francisco Liriano slider.
Gerrit Cole isn’t learning his craft far from high stakes and bright lights, he’s learning in a pennant chase
The changeup is still in the early stages of refinement. Wil Venable smashed a Cole changeup for a double to lead off the third Wednesday.
“Just a few pitches here or there I could have executed better,” Cole said.
The challenge for Cole is this: he’s still in the first chapter of his major league career. He’s still far from a finished product. But how do you balance development with winning today which the Pirates must do?
How do you choose between working in a second or third offspeed pitch vs. just shoving 100 mph down opposing batters throats?
“That’s what the five days in between are for,” Cole said. “That’s when you can attack your delivery and work on your breaking stuff. When you get out there that’s just competing. If I don’t have a good breaking ball, with two strikes I better get the fastball on the edge of the plate or start changing eye levels…. There’s no thought to working on stuff in the middle of the game that’s what the five days are for.”
But is there too much on Cole’s plate between starts?
He’s throwing five pitches: four-seam fastball, two-seamer, slider, curve and changeup.
Charlie Morton has had success by have pitching taken away from him. Should Cole focus on throwing three pitches instead of five?
Should he master options A, B & C before moving on to D & F?
It’s just a thought. It’s not that Cole’s been poor. He’s actually been incredibly consistent and has improved his strikeout numbers as the season has gone along.
Cole is also still learning to balance emotions.
Staying in the moment has always been tough for Cole. He’s something of a perfectionist. Bad pitches, bad plays behind him, stick with him. They can affect his next pitch. Cole looked severely upset when he left the game Wednesday. When Cole returned to the dugout following the sixth inning Wednesday, he sat with his head fixed parallel to the ground, not flinching as Pirates catcher Russell Martin nudged his shoulder several times, apparently in an effort to console him.
“I was just telling him to keep his head up,” Martin said. “I like his attitude.”
“I just felt like I let a good opportunity slip away,” Cole said. “We had an opportunity to come here and sweep and set the tone for the San Francisco series. I was just disappointed that I wasn’t able to better help the team.”
It’s a positive that Cole cares. That he wants perfection of himself. But to deliver the moment Pirate Nation has waited for for 21 years he has to stay in the moment.
It’s a delicate balancing act in the center of a diamond with crunch-time of September approaching.