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Gerrit Cole struck out just one hitter but was an out away from his second quality start. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Yes, that was Gerrit Cole making his second Major League start Sunday, even though you could have easily confused it for a replay of his debut. The phenom prospect threw the same number of fastballs, allowed the same number of hits and walks, kept the run total low, faced a former Cy Young Award winner, pitched to contact and exited in the middle of an inning to a standing ovation on his way to a win in the 6-3 Pirates victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
One of the only differences was the catcher receiving his pitches. Michael McKenry found out 80 minutes before the game he would replace Russell Martin, a late scratch with lower body soreness.
“I didn’t have quite nearly the stuff I had on Tuesday,” Cole said. “Michael was able to recognize that and call the game accordingly.”
Cole relied on his fastball, which hovered around 94-96 mph early but ramped up to 96-99 mph in his final inning, throwing it 81% of the time and 65% for strikes. He only got four whiffs, three of them with his fastball. Both Cole and McKenry said he didn’t have his breaking ball, using it just eight times over 80 pitches.
“I wish I had a better breaking ball. I wish I had a better changeup, maybe generate a few more of those swings-and-misses,” Cole said.
But for all the areas that were lacking, Cole pitched to contact very effectively. He got into five three-ball counts of his 23 hitters but walked none. He threw first-pitch strikes less than half the time, but pitched back to draw nine ground balls. He struggled with the Dodgers’ strong middle of Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier (6-for-9) but kept the rest in check (1-f0r-14). Gonzalez in particular hit three fly balls to the left-field warning track.
Plus Cole got threw the fifth inning having thrown just 59 pitches, getting 11 of his first 15 outs on four pitches or fewer. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Cole was better in his first start but still got good results Sunday.
“When you miss spots and you leave the ball over the plate, and it’s the middle of the lineup guys, things happen,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “They get paid money. They got nice cars and nice homes.”
Just as in his debut, Cole got knocked around near the end. After two outs through the air to start the 6th, Cole threw what he said was his best pitch to Adrian Gonzalez. But the left-hander drove it to the Notch for a book rule double. Puig lined a fastball for a single to left and Ethier chopped a changeup that cut through the right side for an RBI. The sellout crowd of 37,263 applauded Cole (5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 strikeout to pitcher Zack Greinke) as he exited with another job well done.
“The third time through the lineup is always gonna be tough,” Cole said. “There’s a fine line between throwing a good punch and showing them everything you got versus holding something back and getting yourself into trouble early.”
Manufacturing the Runs
The Pirates struck first on Greinke with back-to-back singles, though leadoff man Alex Presley was thrown out at the plate. Garrett Jones lined a cutter to the right-center-field gap for a two-run double. The Dodgers got one back in the 2nd inning. Yasiel Puig hit a leadoff single stopped only by Jordy Mercer in the grass, then stole second base, took third base on a groundout and scored on another groundout to Mercer.
Presley led off the third with a bloop single, then two batters later Greinke walked Jones on five pitches and hit Walker on one. The table was set for Pedro Alvarez with the bases loaded, but the dinner went cold as he grounded out to first base. Travis Snider’s 4th-inning leadoff single did not result in any runs after the Dodgers generated a run on three singles in the top of the inning. Instead, it was all tied at 2-2.
Pedro Alvarez’s 15 home runs are tied for fifth in the NL. (Photo by: David Hague)
Alvarez swung for redemption in the 5th. With two outs, Jones singled and Walker walked on five pitches, then Alvarez drew a full count on Greinke. The right-hander hung a curveball down the middle and Alvarez rifled it into the center-field bushes more than 400 feet away for a three-run home run. Greinke crouched on the mound, defeated with one swing.
On Father’s Day, Pedro Alvarez, Sr. was in the crowd to watch his son crush his team-high 15th homer.
“It means the world to me… I guess I must really love them,” Alvarez, Jr. said with a laugh.
Jordy Mercer and Garrett Jones each gathered two hits while Alex Presley tied a season-high three hits, including a line-drive solo home run on a cutter left down the middle by Matt Guerrier.
The Pirates bullpen held the Dodgers hitless over the final 11 batters. Justin Wilson relieved Cole and froze Luis Cruz with a 98 mph fastball after a four-pitch walk to load the bases, then followed it up by walking Jerry Hairston Jr. on four pitches in the 7th but drawing an inning-ending double play. Mark Melancon retired L.A. 1-2-3 for the 8th with the exclamation point of striking out Puig swinging to end a 10-pitch battle. Closer Jason Grilli did his job by grabbing two strikeouts for his league-leading 25th save and the series win.
“We got sellout crowds coming to PNC Park,” Grilli said to cheers in an interview with ROOT Sports’ Robby Incmikoski. “You guys gotta keep it up, coming out. Feeling good because of you guys.”
Starling Marte played for the first time since Wednesday, entering in a double-switch to play left field in the 6th inning. Marte struck out and grounded out, but he will apparently avoid a trip to the disabled list (ribs/oblique discomfort)
Brandon Cumpton will be the starting pitcher Thursday for the Pirates in Cincinnati, Hurdle confirmed.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said about the media fervor over the possibility of being fired last month: “It was pretty rough.”
Reliever Mark Melancon pitched his third day in a row Sunday. Though he tossed only 17 pitches, expect him to take a rest Monday against the Reds.
Sunday’s game was delayed 1 hour and 28 minutes by rain.
Right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez will pitch another rehab start Tuesday in Triple-A Indianapolis: 5 innings and 75 starts. He may have been a candidate to pitch Thursday, but Hurdle said they wanted to give him another chance to stretch out in the minors as opposed to hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.