Walking the Plank: Pittsburgh Pirates welcome Gerrit Cole to the show


If you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and you’re walking around today with a bit of extra spring in your step and maybe with a little more hope and expectation in your heart today than normal, it’s OK. Today is the day the Pirates welcome Gerrit Cole to the show.

Yep, the big guy is here and I’m not expecting him to go back to Triple-A Indianapolis. The workhorse that Pirates fans have been salivating over since he was drafted first overall in 2011 has earned his call-up.

February 17, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole (75) poses for photo day at Pirate City. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There had been talk after spring training that some of the early troubles he had this year could be attributed to his being sent down and that he was feeling a bit sorry for himself. I know he felt that he pitched well enough to make the club going north.

However, the Bucs had different plans. While Pirates fans hope that Cole has an all-star MLB career – and with the tools he possesses that is entirely possible – he simply was not ready to start the year in the major leagues. He still had things he needed to work out and after a few rough outings, the pieces started to come together.

Everyone has been talking about the lack of strikeouts and that he has rarely used that nasty slider of his to pile up the Ks. That’s because the Pirates didn’t send him down to see how much he could dominate Triple-A players. They sent him down to get better command of his fastball as well as to work on his changeup. His results over his past several starts show that he has been an apt pupil, and with some holes to fill in the starting rotation for the time being, the Pirates are giving Cole his shot.

He is going to be more amped up tonight then he has in quite some time. As long as he listens to Russell Martin and does what he is capable of doing, he most definitely has a shot to win his opener. I don’t care how many strikeouts he ends up with; I care that he battles every single pitch. I care that if he makes mistakes (and he will) that he is able to let them go and move on to the next batter. That’s what I am looking for out of him the most tonight.

This young man has the weight of entire city on his back. He also has all the tools and mentality to handle that. That’s what your staff “ace” is supposed to be able to do. Right now, although you can argue that Jeff Locke and his great start lead the team, let’s just remember that despite his record, A.J. Burnett is the unquestioned leader of this pitching staff. The fact that Gerrit has him to show him how to be a professional is a good thing.

Time will tell what happens to Cole, as well as the Pirates as a whole, but I believe that good things happen to those who wait. Pirates fans have waited long enough. Go get them, Gerrit!

Now that I’m done getting my warm and fuzzy feelings out, let’s talk about something that is really driving me nuts. Right now, if the Pirates hitters for the most part fell out of a boat, they couldn’t hit water. I don’t want to be mean, but sometimes I think Stevie Wonder has just as good a chance at getting a hit by some of the swings that I have seen from the Pirates. I keep hearing about the Pirates in June and July last year and how they were on fire. Well, I don’t really care about last year. I care about this one. Pirates hitters have made almost every opposing Pitcher they faced over the last two weeks look like Cy Young candidates. I mean, is it just me, or do Pirate hitters tend to take first-pitch fastballs that are right down Main St.? Someone needs to tell them to gear up on that first pitch. Until the Pirates start going after it, other teams are going to do it and put our hitters in the hole right off the bat.

As if that is not bad enough, Pirate hitters are chasing more pitches outside of the zone then they swinging at actual strikes. I mean, for the most part to put it as nicely as I can, the Pirates need to improve in this area. Fast. The pitching staff needs help from our hitters. Yes hitting can be streaky, and while I’m not hitting the panic button, it’s time for the Pirates’ offense to explode. They are in no way Murderer’s Row, but they are a better hitting team then what they are currently producing.

Kudos to Burnett. With run support he was able to go almost the whole way to finish off the Chicago Cubs last weekend. You

March 20, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Marte Starling (6) squares to bunt during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

could tell how bad he wanted the shutout as well as the complete game. I have a feeling his luck is about to turn around. I noticed in his start against the Atlanta Braves that a routine line drive was hit to Starling Marte in left field, and instead of making what would have amounted to a minimal run for the ball, Marte choose to stay still and let the ball bounce to him on one hop. Normally, Marte would go after this kind of ball 98 percent of the time but this time he choose not to in what was then a still close ballgame. Now while I am by no means a certified lip reader, they showed A.J. on the mound fuming. As he glared out at left field, the words “That was a (expletive) effort” appeared to come out of his mouth. Marte avoided him between innings. I have a feeling A.J. gave him a little “advice” later.

Since I’m speaking of young Mr. Marte. I knew he would go though struggles at the plate this year but there is one thing that Hurdle or someone hasgot to stop: the constant attempt to bunt to get a base hit. I know when players are slumping, they will do anything to get a hit but this is bordering on ridiculous. A lead-off hitter needs to be able to hit. The biggest problem I can see is the one thing everyone thought could be his Achilles’ heel, his plate discipline. He is constantly finding himself down 0-2 and trying to battle back. He sets the table for the Pirates. It seems like as he goes, so does the Pirates offense. When he was tearing it up in the beginning of the year he was ripping the first pitch he saw. All of a sudden, he’s taking the first pitch every time up. Sound familiar?

The top three in the NL Central – the St Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds – are all good baseball teams. I believe the Pirates are a piece or two away from making a true run at this. If injuries don’t plague the pitching staff, I am comfortable with what the Pirates have. They need a proven hitter with power to put them over the top. With no internal candidates are even close to filling that role, what would the Pirates give up to acquire one? While the Pirates have a lot of good young pitching prospects, they will have to part with quality to expect as much in return.

This is the summer that is going to define the Neal Huntington era. More so what happens before the trade deadline on July 31st. Without a doubt, he needs to make a move without disrupting team chemistry and without giving away too much. Yes the Pirates need a legit consistent hitter with power, but not just for a half a year. They need someone who not only do they have club control over for a few years, but someone who actually wants to be in Pittsburgh and help lead them to the promised land.

I know that a few years ago, that very well may have been impossible, but the sense around the league is the Pirates are a good team that is on their way. After Saturday’s game against the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano was quoted as saying “Why can’t we play like them?” Seriously, when in the hell was the last time you heard anyone say that?

To finish where I started, I just want to wish Pirate fans a great game tonight. Enjoy every moment, good or bad, because the first time only happens once. Good luck, Gerrit Cole. The weight of Pirates fans’ expectations rests squarely on your shoulders. Long may you run.