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Eighty-two was history but something else about last night is more important for the present

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER  -   Four days after Gerrit Cole extinguished two candles on his second birthday cake — Sept. 8, 1992 — was the last time the Pirates reached 82 wins.

 

Twenty-one years later, one day after Cole turned 23,  you saw a player with only three months of experience with The Streak help extinguish it.

 

For those who watched, you saw history.

 

Many of you, like Jordan White, celebrated.

 

 

Reaching 82 is significant milestone. I don’t need to tell all you that have lived through 20 years of losing that. You lived through Ron Villone as a opening day starter, the Aramis Ramirez trade, and the decision to drafty Bryan Bullington 1st overall.

 

I understand the emotional release.

 

But something else about last night was more important for 2013 on-the-field events moving forward.

 

That something? It’s the continued emergence of Cole.

 

We’ve heard much about Cole’s lacking strikeout rate even dating back to his time at UCLA. Well, that strikeout rate is improving;

 

Cole’s first-half strikeout rate: 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings

 

Cole’s second-half strikeout rate: 7.9 strikeouts per nine

 

In perhaps the most important start of his career, with veteran starting pitchers having struggled in recent starts, Cole had the best outing of his career. He was simply dominant. He had easy 96-99 mph heat and command of the fastball. Most important he had both a swing-and-miss slider and changeup.

 

The biggest development for the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is the slider is starting to play more.

 

Cole struck out five batters swinging on his slider, which had excellent late action Monday. Cole also struck out another with a 91 changeup that had excellent fading action. Simply unfair.

 

It was the best raw stuff Cole has had since his June start in Anaheim when he was amped up to be pitching in front of family and friends.

 

While bouncing around like the NASDAQ market, Cole’s slider has generally trended upward. He didn’t even throw it in his first several starts as a major leaguer. When he begins to harness it more consistently like he did Monday, he will have the makings of a front-of-the-rotation starter.

 

And don’t forget about Cole’s fourth and sixth innings at Milwaukee last week. Remember it went something like this:  Cole struck out Jean Segura swinging on a slider that dived out of the zone — the same fate awaited Aramis Ramirez, who swung through an 84 mph curve. In the sixth inning, Cole painted the corner with a 98 mph fastball to strike Ramirez. Carlos Gomez followed by swinging and missing at another 98 mph fastball.

 

He’s improving … in the middle of a postseason chase.

 

It’s smart of the Pirates not to make his innings limit public this season, because that red line might need to be revised if the Pirates find themselves in a playoff series. If Cole keeps pitching this, he won’t be a bullpen option in October, he will be a starting option.

 

And the other thing I think you have to love about Cole is the mental makeup.

 

This was a guy who was not overwhelmed by the major league stage in his debut. In the most important start of his college career, he struck out 13 TCU batters in eight innings in Omaha. And in his most important start as a major leaguer on Monday, with the Pirates desperately needing a win and matched up against Yu Darvish, he was at his best. That says a lot. Aces have to have that kind of makeup.

 

Cole not only helped break The Streak. He gave Pittsburgh a glimpse of what he can be on Monday night: a legit ace.

 

-TS

 

Comments

  1. Leo Walter says:

    Travis,you won’t get any argument from me. I actually though Cole showed a hint of what was coming in that start against the Brewers,and last night certainly confirmed it.The fastball to Ramirez you mentioned and a couple of those breaking balls last night actually made me laugh they were so unfair.By 2015 he is going to be a real bear to face.

  2. cmat0829 says:

    Couldn’t agree more, was thinking the same thing. Big games bring out the best in big-time players. Cole brought that last night. This is the ACE of the 2014 staff, just like it was projected a few years ago when he was drafted. Taillon should be arriving in June next year also and I’m excited for a rotation anchored by these young men.

  3. leefoo says:

    eightytwo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    woooooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooooo

    ========

    Also, I haven’t been a Cole believer, but maybe, just maybe!!!!

    Foo

  4. Travis Sawchik says:

    And some think Tyler Glasnow is nearing or surpassing Jameson Taillon as a pitching prospect. A lot of right-handed pitching depth in the Pirates’ system

  5. Travis Sawchik says:

    Assuming he stays healthy and continues to develop more consistency with his slider and change, he could be the ace of the staff by the middle of next season. That’s the upside

  6. Joe says:

    I think the big question is, if we get in to the one game playoff – who would start that game? Would Cole be a possibility now? He’s had the best showing of any pitcher as of late.

  7. NMR says:

    Great blog, Travis.
    .
    “It’s smart of the Pirates not to make his innings limit public this season, because that red line might need to be revised if the Pirates find themselves in a playoff series.”
    .
    I’m definitely a believer in modern day pitch counts and general theory of building up young pitchers, but there has yet to be scientific substantiation of the mythical “Verducci Effect”.
    .
    You look at Cole, specifically, and you see a 6’4″ manchild with clean mechanics, God-given genetics, and spotless injury history. If he’s shut down in order to save two or three starts, without showing signs of wear, it would be a terrible mistake.

  8. NMR says:

    May not have much of a choice if the team stays in the division hunt until the end. Could be hard to set up the rotation with the playoff game in mind.
    .
    But your question is a fun one, regardless. I, personally, still think you have to go with Liriano. Cole may be the most consistant as of late, but this offense isn’t one that you can count on for four, or even three, runs in a given night. Liriano still represents – as of today – the best chance of giving you that 8 inning, one run dominating performance.

  9. Nate83 says:

    +++ Couldn’t agree more. I aslo believe in ramping up young pitchers slowly when circumstances allow for it. Middle of pennant race doesn’t allow for it and in this case Cole is the perfect candidate to push whatever innings limit they set for him because of all the reasons you listed with injury history and mechanics.

  10. Clemson Travis,
    .
    I deeply enjoyed your article until the last sentence of the last two paragraphs.
    .
    And, of course, your comments right here.
    .
    The term “Ace” should not be used so flippantly! It should be used as readily as tossing manhole covers as frisbees.
    .
    The criticism of Gerrit Cole is that he is a toolsy pitcher who has never dominated any Minor League level and even his last year of college. After his FIRST dominating performance as a Major Leaguer, (ONE game!) you want to deign him “that Term that should not be Used!”
    .
    This is now the 3rd Pirate pitcher you have used that term in reference to just this season (4th?? Did you use it in reference to recent Charlie Morton outings?)
    .
    You and I must have different definitions of the term. I believe there are only 8 – 10 Aces in the entire Major Leagues, and you have used it to refer to 3, or perhaps 4, pitchers just on the Pirates.
    .
    Maybe you learned a different baseball dictionary up in Cleveland.

  11. Mike A. says:

    I will admit that as recently as last week, I was skeptical about Cole, because he seemed to be more of just a “thrower” rather than a “pitcher”. I don’t know if credit goes to Russell Martin, Ray Searage, Cole, or (most likely) all of the above…but last night, Gerrit looked like a “PITCHER” (all CAPS intentional)….and one with tremendous stuff. Hope we see that with more consistency in the weeks, months and years ahead.

  12. NMR says:

    Speaking of, did you see they anounced Jameson Taillon will be pitching in the AFL?
    .
    Almost certainly will be to build up his arm for a full 2014, into October if need be. He’s at 147 IP right now, which means another 15-20 would easily put him in line for 180-190 IP next year.

  13. Leo Walter says:

    You didn’t think he was dominant aginst the Brewers in his last start ? If not,I don’t know what you are looking for.

  14. Leo Walter says:

    Kingham isn’t anything to sneeze at either Travis. He should be one of those guys like Big Game James or Kyle Loshe, who will be right in the middle to back end of a rotation to eat up close to 200 + innings every season.

  15. No. Giving up 5 hits and a walk in 6 innings, leading to 2 earned runs, doesn’t even approach “dominant” in my lexicon.

  16. Nate83 says:

    I didn’t see that. I had a very busy weekend. I know they have been accused of being to patient with prospects in the past but I think they have appropriately brought players along for the most part.
    .
    I have to think Taillon will be on the same exact schedule as Cole was this year. It will be interesting to see what they do with Gomez. Will they try to stretch him out and have him be starter or continue in his current role.
    .
    It will also be interesting to see what becomes of McPherson. This year was a lost year for him but I thought he was a better pitcher then Locke coming into this year. I’m not sold on Locke, I don’t know what to expect from Wandy and I’m not sure they resign AJ if he thinks he is worth more then the Pirates think he is. The next 4 starts are very big for Burnett and his future with the team.
    .
    Stolmy is also interesting but he needs to be more consistant to be an option. Seems like a good pitcher is in there if he can harness his control. It’s good for him to be up right now and spend time with some verteran pitchers and Searage.

  17. NMR says:

    Agreed, Groat. Not even close to dominant. Gave up a lot of hard contact to go along with those hits as well.
    .
    I don’t know if it is a matter of just really, really WANTING an ace due to, well, never having one or what, but I completely agree that the term gets terribly overused.

  18. Nate83 says:

    We had the ace formally known as Oliver Perez for 4 months. That counts for something doesn’t it.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting. Cole threw 150 combined innings last year across all levels … and they’re going to have Taillon exceed that. I assume we’ll see Jameson in June.

  20. NMR says:

    I was actually taking a look at the returning staff over lunch today, so I enjoyed your post very much.
    .
    Gerrit Cole is here. ’nuff said.
    .
    Liriano is also a no-brainer.
    .
    Charlie Morton has earned a spot in the 2014 rotation, at least to open the season. Love the guy, think he could be big next year, but also think his splits and inconsistency could force him to the pen on a contending team (which the Pirates hopefully will be).
    .
    I, personally, agree with DK’s assessment of Locke. Kid’s body is just wearing down. I’m still confident he’s the solid back-end starter he was expected to be coming into the year.
    .
    That leaves one open spot.
    .
    One would think Wandy will excercise his option due to injury concerns, which will certainly put him in the rotation, but a chronic injury such as that cannot be counted on.
    .
    Unfortunately, the team not only wasted this year of McPherson but likely next year as well by waiting 3+ months to do surgery. Not sure he can be expected to be anything but a September callup, realistically.
    .
    I wouldn’t push my luck with Gomez. I don’t think this season was necessarily a fluke, but it’s also clear he has a solid history of stinking as a starter. Long man suits him well.
    .
    I also see Stolmy as a reliever, but no reason he can’t at least audition for the 5th starter spot.
    .
    I still think the team should monitor Jeff Karstens in the AFL and sign him to a minor league contract.
    .
    Throw him in the mix with Cumpton, Phil Irwin, Taillon, and even Kingham as guys with options who could give starts if need be.
    .
    I see no reason AJ Burnett cannot be a quality major league starter next year, and the Pirates internal options are not so good that they should be turning their cheek to that. But the money WILL be a factor. Is +$10m better used on Burnett or a 1B/RF/SS free agent bat? That will likely be the question.

  21. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks NMR.

    There have been multiple studies that have shown the Verducci Effect to be an ineffective guideline.

    At the end of the day, we still don’t understand why arms and shoulders break down, other than pitching is an unnatural act.

    But we do know is over-taxing young arms can be detrimental. But is it a simple innings or pitch count? Is it stress innings. Should we be studying alterations in delivery? We don’t know

  22. Travis Sawchik says:

    You have to earn an the “ace” label, no doubt. Cole simply doesn’t have the sample size to qualify. But he does have ace upside, which is my point. We saw that ace upside for the first time last night.

  23. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yep, another nice prospect. Luis Heredia still has top-of-the-rotation potential as well.

  24. Travis Sawchik says:

    Pirates should at least make a qualifying offer to Burnett, to be awarded draft pick compensation should he pitch elsewhere.

    Locke’s build is a concern, I agree. But he’s velocity doesn’t suggest he is fatiguing. But perhaps it’s showing up in his command? Or is he simply begun to pitch away from contact, consciously or subconsciously?

  25. Nate83 says:

    That is a good assement top to bottom. I agree completely about Karstens. He could be kept for a discount compared to his career numbers. You can never have enough starters. Injuries happen (Wandy), pitcher’s may not continue on the path you expected (Locke, Morton). You really need a solid 7 or 8 options going into the season with maybe a few more showing they can be options as the season goes along like Johnson and Cumpton did this year.
    .
    As for AJ I would like him back as well but if he wants a 2 year contract at 13 million per year I would rather the money be spent on something else.

  26. Nate83 says:

    Maybe they are trying to avoid an innings pinch next year and ramp him up slightly faster then Cole. 15-20 innings is another 3-4 starts.

  27. NMR says:

    Great point about the qualifying offer, but I still wonder if the team is comfortable paying him $13m real dollars if he accepts. Not necessarilly a matter of being cheap, but where they want to prioritize their dollars. Could that money buy a couple years of a possible Jose Abreu contract?
    .
    Locke’s velocity doesn’t suggest his ARM is fatiguing, which is great. But according to the team, his issues are an inability to keep his mechanics together and prevent himself from dropping arm slot. At this point in the year, there could be a correlation with fatigue. I think we’ve seen this year with Liriano how an over-the-top slot positively affects command. I personally believe that is the cause of Locke’s walk troubles.

  28. NMR says:

    The million dollar question.
    .
    Now that you’ve conquered Clemson and Pittsburgh losing, your next free agent contract should be huge! :)

  29. NMR says:

    Unless you are Cincinatti, then you sell your soul to the devil and manage to go two straight seasons with barely using more than five.

  30. Nate83 says:

    Speaking of them. Man is Hamilton fun to watch. I reminds me of when Vince Coleman and Tim Raines would get on base and everyone knew they where going. The anticipaton is awesome. I bet some pitchers just don’t want to pitch it because they know what the end result is. Hopefully the kid doesn’t figure out how to hit that well.

  31. NMR says:

    Ha, you’re right about that!
    .
    Stole second again the other night, again as a pinch runner for Ryan Ludwick, and again scored the game winning run on a Todd Frazier hit.
    .
    Pretty sure the catcher fumbled the transfer and didn’t even get a throw off. Once people settle down, they’ll start throwing him out. But its amazing to see his effect.

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