For the second time in a week Gerrit Cole, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace in training, faltered in the 7th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 26th Cole pitched 6 shutout innings before the Cards led off the 7th with a pair of hits. With his pitch count elevated to 108 manager Clint Hurdle pulled Cole from the game. Tony Watson would later allow the inherited runners to score. Yesterday Cole was much more efficient with his pitches. He entered the 7th inning with the Pirates holding a 4-2 lead and his pitch count sitting at just 76. But once again Cole failed to get through the 7th inning. Kolten Wong delivered a pinch hit game tying 2-run homer. Jon Jay followed with a triple. That would be the end of Gerrit Cole’s day.
This continues a troubling trend where Gerrit Cole struggles to go beyond the 6th inning. In fact, he hasn’t been all that good after 5 innings this season. His ERA thru the first 5 innings is 3.21. After the 5th inning his ERA swells to 6.42. His ERA in the 7th inning this season is a whopping 7.94. This basically follows the same pattern as his rookie season. His ERA in the 7th inning last year was 5.40.
So what gives? Is Cole running out gas and thus less effective? Or is he just a 6 inning pitcher? I don’t think endurance is the issue. Today on the Triblive.com Buccos Blog Travis Sawchik made an interesting observation about Cole’s pitch selection and over reliance on the fastball. Nearly 68% of Cole’s pitches are fastballs. He has used his change up only 4.1% of the time. Cole is leaning too heavily on his fastball and as Travis Sawchik posits that might be because of all the time Cole missed this season due to injuries. He simply has not had enough opportunities this season to work on refining his change up. So he reverts back to the pitch he trusts – the fastball. Cole has a terrific fastball that works well for him the first couple of turns thru the order. But once the lineup flips over for the third time in a game hitters are on to him. Here is the OPS against Cole each time thru the order:
1st AB – .671
2nd AB – .608
3rd AB – .928
It is hard to envision Cole gaining trust in his off speed pitches at this juncture of the season. That is something to work on next year in Spring Training. For now it just might be better for the manager to limit Cole’s exposure to the latter innings. Given the Pirates bullpen woes this season lifting Cole after 6 innings isn’t a great alternative either. But if the Cole Train keeps running out of steam in the 7th inning what option does Hurdle really have?