Gerrit Cole admittedly wasn't at his best Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it didn't matter. On top of his natural ability, Cole has shown in his first two starts that he is a gamer, and that is nearly as important as having great stuff when it comes to being a dominant pitcher.
Cole allowed seven hits and three earned runs in 52/3 innings, and Pedro Alvarez blasted a three-run homer as the Pirates beat the Dodgers, 6-3, before a crowd of 37,263 at PNC Park.
It was decidedly different than his first start Tuesday, a win against the San Francisco Giants. This time, Cole had to fight through some tougher situations, but he made enough good pitches to prevent a big inning.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said that Cole's outing was a great example of a pitcher needing to find a way to win a game when his pitches aren't working like they are supposed to.
"I actually think he pitched much better the first start," Hurdle said. "He just had to compete [Sunday]. He didn't have much of a breaking ball, that was hit and miss, he threw some changeups in to try and keep them off the fastball. I think he knew it, so he went at them hard and moved it in and out and up and down.
"That was just straight pitching with an edge while he was out there. This was just a day where he had to go out and battle, battle his backside off, especially at this level. But it was his second start."
Cole (2-0) became the first Pirates pitcher to win his first two major league starts since Josh Fogg in 2002.
He also joined Fogg, Tim Wakefield, Jose DeLeon and Jim Nelson as the only Pirates since 1963 to accomplish that feat, and he did it the hard way by beating two former Cy Young award winners, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke.
Cole said that he felt good for the most part, but he knew he didn't necessarily have his best stuff. So, he was content to keep things simple and rely on his defense to make plays and keep him out of jams.
He said the Dodgers did a good job of stringing some hits together early and that might have gotten him out of his comfort zone.
"They got a few hits to go their way, but I am thankful that we play really good defense and held them only to one run [in the fourth]," Cole said. "But I thought [Sunday] was a completely different start. At times. I was maybe a little too fast, but, for the most part, I was right where I need to be in order to compete.
"It is nice to fight through things and to have as many plays as we did in the field because it helps you get out of jams and it helps me build confidence to keep going back in there and just keep going and trust that one of those seven guys behind me is going to make a play."
One thing that helped Cole is that the Pirates were able to get an early lead in the first thanks to Garret Jones, who hit a two-run double that drove in Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen.
The Dodgers scratched together a run in the second and another in the fourth to tie the score.
The fourth could have been much worse, but Cole made a good pitch to Tim Federowicz to induce an inning-ending double play.
Alvarez then put the Pirates ahead again, this time for good, at 5-2, with a three-run homer over the center-field wall and into the shrubbery.
"You have to do it pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat," said Alvarez, who was 1 for 4. "The fact that the first two at-bats turned out the way they did is part of the game. You have to move on and get ready for the next one. And that's what I try to do every single time.
"It is just trying to go up there and compete, and you literally have to take it pitch by pitch."
Alex Presley tacked on the Pirates' final run with a solo homer in the sixth, and relievers Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli shut out the Dodgers in the final three innings to preserve the win.
The victory meant the Pirates took two out of three against the Dodgers, marking the first time since 2010 the Pirates (41-28) have won a series against Los Angeles (29-40). It also lifted the Pirates' home record to 25-13.
Greinke went five innings and gave up five earned runs, eight hits. He struck out three while his record fell to 3-2.
The Pirates will begin an important four-game series tonight in Cincinnati against the Reds, the team they are battling for second place in the National League Central Division.
One other good development for the Pirates Sunday was that Starling Marte, who has missed the previous three games entered in the sixth and was able to finish.
Marte went 0 for 2, but Hurdle had said if the young outfielder's sore ribs did not show improvement by the end of the weekend he might have to go on the disabled list.
"We had talked before the game," Hurdle said, "and he was good enough to get ready to go and get back in play."
The same could not be said for catcher Russell Martin, who originally was in the lineup but was scratched late due to lower-body soreness.
The game was delayed by rain for 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published June 16, 2013 10:15 PM