MLB: Pirates' Cole hopes to make progress, avoid sophomore slump
BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a long list of great hitters throughout the franchise history, including such Hall of Famers as Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
Andrew McCutchen, won was the NL MVP last season, might someday join that list.
The list of great pitchers in Pirates’ history is much shorter, though, as just five have won at least 150 games, the last being Vernon Law, who retired in 1967. Wilbur Cooper holds the club record with 202 wins, and he last threw a pitch in a Pittsburgh uniform in 1924.
While he has just 10 wins and 19 starts to his name and is just 23, it’s hard not to wonder if right-hander Gerrit Cole might become one of the few standout pitchers in club history.
“He’s a very special young man,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Cole was 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA last season as a rookie. He struck out 100 in 117 innings while allowing 109 hits and 28 walks. His fastball averaged 96.1 mph, the best in the major leagues among pitchers who worked at least 110 innings, according to FanGraphs.
However, those numbers don’t completely tell the story of the pitcher the Pirates chose with the first overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft from UCLA and signed to a franchise-record $8 million bonus.
In his last eight regular-season starts, Cole was 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 13 walks in helping the Pirates both reach the playoffs and post their first winning record since 1992.
Cole was stellar while splitting two starts against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL division series, allowing three runs and five hits in 11 innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
“You saw a different Gerrit Cole at the end last season than you saw when he first walked in the door,” Hurdle said. “He loves to compete. This man wants to come out on top. He did through college. Every conversation I’ve had with anybody that’s been tied to him, since he started pitching in competitive baseball and competitive situations say the same thing, and we’ve seen it with our player development staff,” he said.
Cole enjoyed pitching on the big stage in October and would like another opportunity. He says the key to be successful again in his second year is to continue what he did as a rookie.
“The season went by so quickly and I just realized that I had been taking the same approach and that was just taking it one game at a time, one start at a time and just taking care of business in between those starts,” Cole said.
“I think it was part of my strength, just being able to stay really focused and stay in the present and not look too far ahead or dwell too much on the past,” he said.
In fact, Cole plans to repeat that pattern this season.
“Last year was a great year for us and for the team,” Cole said. “It was nice to sit back in the winter and enjoy what we accomplished. At the same time, it was easy to start looking forward to this season, both from a personal standpoint and a team standpoint. I’m champing at the bit to get the season going and so is everyone.”