By Joe Starkey
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole walks from the mound after giving up a double to the Diamondbacks' David Peralta during the first inning Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, at PNC Park.
It was Gerrit Cole himself, at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, who warned people not to get too crazy over his fabulous first half.
“It's been three months,” he said. “You don't get paid $215 million (Clayton Kershaw money) for doing it for three months. You get paid $215 million for doing it for like seven years.”
Since that day, Cole is 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA. Not exactly cause for panic but certainly a situation worth monitoring.
Here's why: Cole already has eclipsed his season-high in major-league innings (155 1⁄3), has a 4.70 ERA in August and is coming off a start in which the Arizona Diamondbacks derailed him with five hits and three runs in two innings before Cole settled down.
Of the innings count, pitching coach Ray Searage says, “We're definitely mindful of that, and if we need to make adjustments, we will. But at this point, we're just going to let things run their course and see how it plays out.”
If it plays out any other way than Cole returning to his first-half form, or mighty close to it, the Pirates probably will not get where they want to go. That's just reality. Cole's first-half emergence as a legit ace is what made this Pirates team superior to the previous two.
Suddenly, the one-game wild-card scenario against a Jake Arrieta or Madison Bumgarner didn't seem as daunting.
Cole has to know that the Pirates will need him to be “The Guy” at some point again. Preferably starting Saturday against San Francisco. He just doesn't see it as productive to think that way.
“I mean, that's a trap we all fall into,” he said. “Especially on a team like this where we all want to be the guy in big situations.”
He quickly turned his answer team-centric: “We've had a lot of ‘hard' thrown at us. We do a good job of grinding out stuff. That's our mindset.”
I wonder sometimes if this team is built more for the grind of a playoff series than a one-game situation. But that line of thinking changes when I picture Cole in his first-half form.
Will he regain it?
Nobody, least of all Cole, seems overly concerned about the rough patch. Every National League starter not named Zack Greinke has endured something of the kind. But the idea is to keep it short, a la Clayton Kershaw or Jacob deGrom. Figure it out fast.
Even considering the sometimes shoddy defense behind Cole and lack of offensive support for him, this run of OK-ness is stretching on a bit.
“I mean, yes, every pitcher goes though a rough patch,” Cole said when I presented that idea. “This could very well be it. But I'm not trying to group all of (my starts) together. I take them individually.”
The simple numbers do not portend a crisis. Cole has maintained his strikeout rate since the All-Star break, fanning a batter per inning. His velocity is stable.
His groundball rate, however, a key to his early success, is down in August. He also has seen a change in catchers, going from Chris Stewart to Francisco Cervelli, though he has confidence in both and has pitched good games with both.
The bet here is that Cole finds his groove. But who could know? We've entered new territory in that this would be his first full season if he makes it through September.
Searage would like Cole to “add and subtract” more on his pitches and incorporate all four instead of relying on just a few.
I asked Searage a simple question, for clarification sake: Cole is an ace, right?
His words sounded a bit like Cole's at the All-Star Game.
“Well, I'm not ready to crown him yet,” Searage said. “He's definitely got the potential. It looks like it's going to be in his future. Right now, he is one of the five who go out there to keep the team in the game and give us a chance to win.”
OK, but if there's one game to win, who's the man?
“It's ‘G,' ” Searage said, smiling.
It's G, all right. ‘G' as in Guy. ‘G' as in Great.
The Pirates, very likely, will need Gerrit Cole to be both again.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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