The Pittsburgh Pirates begin a 4 game series with the Atlanta Braves Monday at PNC Park.
Expectations were understandably high for Gerrit Cole entering the 2106 campaign, coming off a 2015 season in which he was every bit the Pirates‘ ace, nearly becoming the club’s first hurler to win 20 games in a quarter century. But when the right-hander’s loss total through the month of April (3) reached almost half of the previous year (8), it started to beg the question if Cole was in for a regression this year or if he was simply getting off to a slower than expected start.
Through his first six appearances Cole failed to last longer than the sixth inning. His control was less than his best in many of those appearances, notably a pair of 4 2/3 inning outings against the Reds in his first start of the season and against the Cubs in early May, when he issued a combined 7 walks while exceeding 100 pitches both times. While baseball pundits everywhere are quick to not draw too much from a run of games in April and May, all of it did lend to speculation around what was behind the un-Cole like start to 2016.
The opinion from some is that Cole was, and still is, still a bit miffed at the salary negotiation issue he went through with the Pirates this offseason. The club was staunchly unwilling to budge from its set pay scale for pre-arbitration players while Cole and his agent Scott Boras made the case that the right-hander’s 2015 campaign, where he made the National League All Star team and finished fourth in Cy Young voting, warranted a substantial raise. While both sides have said all the right things since the matter was closed out in spring training, one has to wonder if the experience left Cole a bit unsettled going into the season.
The more likely culprit was the right rib inflammation Cole dealt with during spring training that caused him to miss his first scheduled start of the year. Seeing limited work in Bradenton left Cole admittedly a bit behind on his preparation for the season. A first outing in 38-degree weather in Cincinnati didn’t stand to help matters.
More from Pittsburgh Pirates
- Pittsburgh Pirates: A Look Back at 2019
- Pirates: Hiring Don Kelly Yet Another Smart Offseason Move
- Pirates’ Solid Offseason Continues with Hiring of Derek Shelton
- Pirates: Derek Shelton Makes Most Sense As Next Manager
- Pirates: Drew Smyly Makes Sense as Potential High-Reward Signing
Of late, Cole appears to be trending in the right direction. A solid outing in a 10-5 win against St. Louis last week followed by a gem of a performance on Sunday at Wrigley. He struck out seven and walked none in eight innings to help the Bucs pick up their first victory of the season against Chicago. There is optimism that we could be back seeing the Gerrit Cole of 2015.
The largest question looming over the Pirates going into this season was what to expect from the starting rotation, a group where Cole is the staff ace. Baseball players are creatures of habit, none more so than pitchers who can be maniacal in their pursuit of familiarity and routine. Having an injury-disrupted spring training and a late start to the regular season, albeit a week, could very well be the cause of Cole’s so-so start to 2016, which is why this most recent performance against the Cubs has the potential to be a turning point for his season.
Cole is scheduled to make his next start this Friday at PNC Park against the Rockies, who were the opponent in Cole’s previous best start of the season, a 9-4 win on April 26. He scattered eight hits over six innings in picking up the win. A second consecutive strong outing could very well be the catalyst Cole needs to regain his 2015 All Star form and start pulling the Pirates back into the NL Central race.