Gerrit Cole was strong in throwing high-90s fastballs and wipeout sliders, but his offense stagnated. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Times baseball writer taught a “Sports Reporting” class. One of his many tips was to never writer a game story that revolved around this idea: “Before the game, the manager said X would happen. And by jove, it did! Skip predicted it!”
Let’s not break that rule, at least not entirely. However, former-Rockies-now-Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was quite familiar with Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched eight strong innings to lead Colorado to a 4-2 series-opening victory. Prior to Friday night’s game, Hurdle laid out his designs for beating Chacin:
Take advantage of “flighty” command (Nope, 70 strikes and 26 balls)
Make Chacin get the ball up (Nopers.)
Get to the bullpen (Nope again. 8 innings over 96 pitches)
So Hurdle was partially right. Chacin did not show his weaknesses, and Chacin won.
“His command was electric,” Hurdle said. “He just dotted the glove up for eight innings, kept the ball down. There wasn’t a whole lot of breathing room, not a lot of mistakes made.”
The Pirates’ only opportunities came in the first four innings, the only frames where the Bucs got any baserunners against Chacin. In the 2nd, Garrett Jones grounded into a double play to erase Russell Martin’s leadoff hit-by-pitch. In the 3rd, Andrew McCutchen hit an RBI single, but Pedro Alvarez then grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the 4th, Jones hit into another DP after Martin led off with a single.
Three chances, three denials. After that, Chacin retired 14 straight batters with half the outs coming on ground balls.
Cole Good, But Loses
Pirates starter Gerrit Cole began very well by striking out his first two batters, but Troy Tulowitzki led off the 2nd inning by blasting a full-count cutter for his 20th home run as Cole left it down the pipe. After that, Cole was successful but inefficient. He retired 12 of his next 14 batters but only three of them on three pitches or fewer.
Cole stood at 83 pitches entering the 6th inning, and although he “didn’t give them a whole lot to work with,” Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk. The rookie pitcher then struck out DJ LeMahieu for his 6th K but gave up an RBI single to Corey Dickerson as his final batter.
It’s a recurring theme over Cole’s first 10 starts: decreased effectiveness as the game goes on. Over his first 50 pitches, he has totaled 25 strikeouts and 4 walks. After that? 18 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Neil Walker hit doubles to the fence in each of his first two at-bats. He was stranded both times. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
“I don’t know if you really expect them to strike out a whole lot more second or third time they face you… especially when you have a high pitch count,” Cole said.
Overall, it was a good start for Cole. He personally allowed only one run, though he was charged with three, and he gave up only five Rockies baserunners over his 5.1 innings. Only problem: he exited having thrown 102 pitches.
“I was really patient tonight with two strikes. They were fouling a lot of pitches off,” Cole said. “I would have liked to have been a little more efficient tonight.”
As for the future? Cole says it is uncharted territory for him. He is at 129 pitches between Triple-A and the Majors after throwing 132 last year. And he wants to keep going. Does he have an innings limit?
“We have a systematic plan in place for him to continue pitching,” Hurdle said.
Out You Go
The Rockies won the game by hitting two singles off left-hander Justin Wilson, who replaced Cole with runners on the corners and one out. Troy Tulowitzki beat out a chop single down the first-base line and Todd Helton lined a two-RBI hit past a shifted-in Pirates infield.
Why didn’t Hurdle go to ground-ball machine Jared Hughes for the possible threat-ending double play, a sinker-baller who returned from injury to get two quick groundouts in the 8th?
“I didn’t feel that was a situation I wanted to bring him back in the Big Leagues,” Hurdle responded. Hughes, Mark Melancon and Bryan Morris were his only other healthy options.
The Bucs mounted a 9th-inning comeback effort against closer Rex Brothers, who entered after Chacin’s 96 pitches. Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez hit back-to-back one-out doubles, but Brothers grabbed the final two outs.
Pittsburgh now leads victorious St. Louis by a half-game in the National League Central and are nine games ahead of any NL team competing to get in the playoff picture.