Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole takes a breather while running in the outfield at Pirate City during an informal spring training baseball workout in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Pirates pitchers and catchers get underway Thurday, Feb. 19, with the full squad in action on Feb. 24. (Gene J. PuskarAP)
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BRADENTON -- Some people like to use the word ace to describe Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole.
Others prefer to play it safe and call him a potential ace.
The 24-year-old right-hander is not taking sides.
The only number Cole cares about is the one on his medical chart. He is hoping for a zero to denote no injuries, no lost time and no disabled list in 2015.
After missing a good chunk of last season -- he was limited to 138 innings and forced to make two trips to the DL -- Cole showed up a week early to Pirates camp. The purpose was to get himself acclimated to the rigors of spring training and thus minimize the chance for an injury.
"I'd like to stay healthy the whole year, put in a full season of work and be able to complement the other guys we have to offer," Cole said Wednesday, the official reporting day for Pirates pitchers and catchers. "It's my only goal. I'd like to win as many as I can and pitch as many games as I can. I don't put statistical goals out there. I am trying to take it one day at a time, stay healthy and put a productive season on the mound."
Those are surely sweet words to Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, who says Cole must use a more balanced approach and not try to max out on everything he does.
He sees the impetuousness of youth in Cole when he wants to move too quickly, which can cause physical problems. It happened last year when the Newport Beach, Calif., native went home to pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers and did too much too soon while trying to impress family and friends who were there to see him.
"His mental approach was max effort on everything." Searage told the media at the club's PirateFest. "He had to learn how to pitch. He had to learn how to add and subtract because the way things were going he was one of those guys who thought more is better. He was maxing out on everything, and I tried to tell him to back off."
Cole describes his injury as a shoulder tightness and soreness. He admits he didn't allow enough time for the shoulder to recover. He assures that will not happen again.
"It kind of caught back up with me when I got off the DL the first time and I had to go back on, but once I got everything right I came back and finished strong," Cole said. "Now I feel great and had a normal off season. I came here a week early to get used to running around."
Cole is glad there will be a good deal of veteran presence on the Pirates staff this year to help him with patience in A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano.
Cole is particularly excited Burnett returned after spending last season with Philadelphia.
"He brings great presence. It's tough to find a guy with 15-16 years in the big leagues that is still as good as he is," Cole said. "He is not a big advice giver. He is more of a lead-by-example type of guy. Passion is a good word to describe him. He kind of creates an atmosphere that it's us against them, and that plays well with the style of baseball we play."
The number one overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Cole went on the disabled list in June of last season with shoulder fatigue. He returned before the month was out but went back on the DL with right lat soreness.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder out of UCLA started the 2012 season with the Bradenton Marauders and made his MLB debut in 2013.
He didn't return until late August, but was impressive. In his final three starts, covering 21 innings, he allowed only five runs, fanned 27 and walked two.
"I've been fortunate to pitch with Frankie, A.J. and Morton. Those guys know what they are doing," Cole said. "It's not always about having people talk to you and tell you what to do. Sometimes it's more about watching how they go about their work and how they compete."