Pirates announce top prospect Cole will pitch Tuesday

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CHICAGO -- Top prospect Gerrit Cole will make his major league debut at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park, the Pirates officially announced Saturday.

Cole will face two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the defending World Series champions.

"It was just the right time," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates are expected to activate Cole Tuesday and will need to make corresponding roster moves to clear spots on the 25- and 40-man rosters.

Cole, 22, was the first overall draft pick in 2011 and went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts for Class AAA Indianapolis this season. He made 38 minor league starts over the past two seasons, posting a 2.84 ERA between stops in Classes AAA, AA and A.

And if he sticks in the rotation, his second career outing would be against another former Cy Young winner -- next Sunday against Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

But whether he stays in the rotation is still to be determined. When asked if this was a spot start or if Cole is moving to the rotation, general manager Neal Huntington said "neither."

"We will see how the situation develops and adjust accordingly," Huntington said in a text message.

The Pirates recently placed starter Jeanmar Gomez on the 15-day disabled list with a right forearm strain, and starter Wandy Rodriguez is getting a couple of extra days of rest as he works through his own forearm issues. Those injuries opened a spot for Cole.

A right-handed power pitcher, Cole has a fastball that can hit 100 mph and a deceptive changeup that gives his fastball the appearance of more life. But his strikeout numbers are about average -- 47 in 68 innings in Indianapolis.

"He's gonna be geeked," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "There's no way around it."

The Pirates drafted Cole out of UCLA and paid him a record $8 million signing bonus.

Cole was unhappy when the Pirates optioned him to Indianapolis to begin this season, believing he had pitched well enough in spring training to earn a spot in the major league rotation. He went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three appearances, two starts, for the Pirates in Grapefruit League action this spring. He also struck out six in three scoreless innings against Team Spain.

Catcher Russell Martin said he was impressed with what he saw out of Cole in the spring.

"I like his make-up," Martin said. "I like his attitude. In my opinion, he's going to be a pitcher for a long time, so this is going to be the first start of, hopefully, a long and prosperous career."

By delaying Cole's debut until now, the Pirates bought an extra year of his service and potentially saved some money along the way.

The Pirates delayed Cole's free agency until 2019 by waiting until now to promote him. And they might also have delayed his arbitration eligibility until after the 2016 season. "Super Two" players are eligible for arbitration after two years of service time if they rank among the top 22 percent in total service in the group of players with more than two but less than three years of service time.

That cutoff date likely will be early next week, but it won't be officially determined until after the season. If the Pirates prevent Cole from being a Super Two player, it could save the club, but cost Cole, millions of dollars in future salary.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published June 8, 2013 8:00 PM


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