Gerrit Cole steps into the box for his first Major League at-bat with the bases loaded. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is 60 feet, 6 inches away. After two straight strikes, Cole lays off three pitches out of the zone. Then Lincecum throws a fastball at Cole’s elbows.
Cole threw 59 of his 81 pitches for strikes in his quality start.
Cole taps his left foot and smacks the pitch into the gap in left-center. If Gregor Blanco does not cut it off, it’s a bases-clearing double. Instead, Cole’s first base hit since his days for the Orange Lutheran High School Lancers is a two-run single to put his new team ahead for good in an 8-2 win Tuesday night.
The Pirates’ top prospect outperformed Lincecum (4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) in every part of his PNC Park debut. Cole kept the Giants scoreless through six innings until he gave up three hits and allowed two runs in the 7th. Of his 81 total pitches, 65 were fastballs and 46 of those fastballs were thrown for strikes. At his best, Cole retired 13 straight batters on five pitches or fewer, pitched into only one three-ball count and allowed no walks.
The No. 1 overall draft pick had to withstand two early jams. After striking out his first MLB opponent Gregor Blanco with a 99 mph fastball, Cole allowed Marco Scutaro to single to right field and Hunter Pence to hit an infield single. Cole escaped by getting Brandon Belt to pop out on a 97 mph fastball.
More trouble in the 2nd inning: Andres Torres and Joaquin Arias singled on two fastballs. After Lincecum bunted them over, Cole hit Blanco with a fastball on an 0-2 count. Cole used his slider to draw a flyout. Five runners on, no runs.
That’s when Cole settled in, efficiently getting 13 consecutive outs on 40 total pitches. His gameplan consisted almost exclusively of his two best pitches: fastballs (80 percent) and sliders (17 percent).
In the 7th inning, Cole’s fastball appeared to flatten out in giving up three hits to the Giants, despite continuing to light up 97 mph on the radar gun. Torres lined a single to right to start the inning, then Brandon Crawford lined a single to left. Though Cole had thrown just 76 pitches, pitching coach Ray Searage came out to talk and reliever Tony Watson began to warm up. Cole’s next pitch almost drew a 5-4-3 double play, but Arias beat it out. Then pinch-hitter Tony Abreu roped an RBI double into right field to end the shutout bid and send Cole off to cheers and ovations from the crowd of 30,614.
Cole’s final line was similar to his Minor League numbers: 6.1 innings, 7 hits, 2 earned runs (he was charged when Watson gave up an RBI groundout to Blanco), 0 walks and 2 strikeouts. While he tilted more to “efficient” than “dominant,” Cole showed flashes with his fastball hitting triple-digits and getting reigning most valuable player Buster Posey to whiff at a slider in the dirt for his second strikeout.
Perhaps most impressive of all, the pitcher who never recorded a base hit in the minors or batted at UCLA followed up his two-run single with a hard-hit comebacker to Lincecum and a line drive that was swiped by center fielder Blanco before it could bounce into the grass. Cole was something expected but also something new.
More to come from PNC Park.