Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Morning After: Gerrit Cole's First Start

The line was plenty good enough for a first game. Fighting through butterflies and expectations, Gerrit Cole went 6-1/3 frames, giving up two runs on seven hits with out a walk and a pair of K. And the two strikeouts were the most impressive line.

He got his first against the first batter he faced, Gregor Blanco. Three fastballs, the last one at 99, and see ya' later. The other was against Buster Posey, the reigning NL MVP, on a nasty hook. But it wasn't the whiffs that impressed; it was the mindset that kept that number down.

Cole pounded the strike zone - 81 pitches, 59 strikes - mainly with fastballs down in the zone. 65 pitches, in fact, were heaters (two and four seam; he had a lot of run on his two-seamer) and he sat at 95-96, reaching 99 a couple of times. He said after the game that if no one's on base, he's just gonna challenge guys, especially with a lead (are you listening, Jeff Locke?).

The righty was ahead of hitters all night - we can only remember three times or four times that he fell behind a batter 2-1 or deeper, and he pumped first strikes like they earned him bonus money.

He was efficient, throwing ten or fewer pitches in three frames, and effective. Cole at one point retired 13 straight G-Men. He did show a pretty nice curve and once or twice spun a changeup, but he pitched to contact. His hit total is a little misleading as he generated a lot of fairly weak contact and late swings. But it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops.

Cole's location could use some fine tuning; he plunked Blanco on an 0-2 pitch, for example. He was up a few times, and those pitches tend to flatten out. The 22 year old sometimes had problems picking up the corner, although he left very few balls in the red zone. He's also gonna to have to mix his pitches more just to keep guys from sitting on them, as Tony Abreu did in the seventh when he turned on an inner half 98 MPH delivery and smoked it to right.

But we're sure he threw what Russell Martin wiggled, and given it was Cole's first night, we're equally sure that the veteran catcher kept it simple. His mix will improve as Martin picks up what stuff works and brings him along, and having the minds of vets like AJ, Frankie and Wandy to pick won't hurt, either.

The thing we looked for as a possible red flag was his temperament. One of the knocks on him in the minors was that he would get frustrated in certain situations and go beyond himself on the mound as a result. But he looked pretty calm on the hill - and he was in a couple of jams - and showed poise during the post-game media frenzy, crediting Martin, the defense and the bats for his performance; he praised everyone but himself.

Post-game snippet: Clint Hurdle brought up #1pick Jason Jennings during the press conference, who threw a complete game shutout in his debut and hit a homer. Cole asked "Did he do that against defending World Champs? Confident and a little cocky, just what we were hoping for.

So hey - one down, many to go. Pretty good start for young Mr. Cole. The future? Who knows right now what even the rest of week holds? If the rain washes out the next game or two, Clint Hurdle has a lot of rotation options (although we think Morton might be by-passed if there is a cancellation for one more Indy start). The Bucs will have to do some shufflin' when Wandy, Jeanmar Gomez and J-Mac come off the DL.

But we get the feeling that another start or two like last night's for Gerrit Cole will have the other guys scuffling to keep their spot. He's still an unfinished product, but what he needs to learn is at the MLB level, and we're looking forward to the process.

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