When Gerrit Cole was first called up to play for the Pirates in early June, it was an incredibly exciting time for Pirates fans, who haven’t had a true homegrown ace in an exceedingly long time. The expectations from the beginning of his big league career were incredibly high, and to an extent, reasonably so. Cole was the number one pick in the 2011 draft, and the Pirates had already paid him an $8 million bonus to sign after they drafted him. He had the build of an NFL linebacker, a fastball that was regularly clocked in the high nineties, and a lethal slider-changeup combo to complete the package. Then he came up to join the big league team, and looked… ordinary.
Cole won his first four starts, he was good, but not the top of the rotation talent he’s supposed to become (although it seems many Pirates fans expected him to be an ace from day one in the big leagues). Then on July fourth, he started a string of three straight losses in which he threw a combined total of 17.1 innings, giving up nineteen hits, four bases on balls, and eight earned runs. Over that string of starts, public opinion on Cole started to shift, and a few even cried for him to be demoted back to Indianapolis for a longer stretch and more development.
After that stretch of games, Cole went out and twirled his best game to date, outdueling Stephen Strasburg in Washington, only giving up one run on two hits, but in true Pittsburgh fashion, there were still complaints that Cole wasn’t getting enough strikeouts like a true top of the staff pitcher should get.
Cole had another excellent start against Miami, but ultimately lost due to offensive futility by the Pirates.Throughout August, Cole alternated between good starts and mediocre to bad starts. His ERA climbed to 3.80, and he looked like he might be what Pirates fans should have expected: A talented, but young and developing pitcher who needed some more time at the big league level before he would dominate. Then when the calendar rolled over to September, some sort of switch must have come on, because he’s been nothing but incredible since then. The Pirates are in an incredibly tight race, and as players like Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez have struggled this month, Cole has done the opposite, kicking into a whole new, previously unseen gear.
In four september starts, Cole has given up four earned runs in twenty-six innings of work, on only seventeen hits, and nine bases on balls, while striking out thirty-three. Like a seasoned veteran, Cole has taken a team that is trying to seal a playoff berth and chase a division title, and put them on his back since the end of August. He’s displaying poise, control, and an ability to rip through big league lineups that shows no signs of going away anytime soon.
Gerrit Cole may not have come as an ace right out of the box, but he’s becoming one fast. He has the build, the stuff, and the mental makeup to be a high end major league pitcher for a long time. The Pirates have nine games left in the season, and presuming the Pirates maintain their normal rotation, we’ll only get one more September start for Cole. Let’s hope he gets one in October.