Pirates notebook: Cole's likely return to Class AAA 'smart business'

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- While Gerrit Cole has dazzled in three starts since making his major league debut June 11, it's likely the young pitcher will be the odd man out of the starting rotation should all the pitchers return to full health.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday on his radio show that it makes "smart business sense" to move Cole to Class AAA Indianapolis in order to protect starting pitching depth when A.J. Burnett (calf) and Wandy Rodriguez (forearm) return from the disabled list.

Of the six pitchers who would be in the mix for a spot in the rotation, Cole and Jeff Locke are the only two with options remaining. The Pirates could keep all six in the organization by optioning Cole or Locke to Indianapolis as insurance if and when injury arises again this season.

The Pirates wouldn't think to move left-hander Locke to the minors as he leads the National League with a 2.01 ERA. Jeanmar Gomez, announced as the team's starter Wednesday, likely will move to the bullpen when all arms are healthy.

Cole, 22, is 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA in his three starts this season and was almost unhittable in his most recent start against the Angels. He hit 100 mph-plus on the radar gun eight times and had a healthy mix of secondary pitches that kept hitters off balance.

"That was the more complete pitcher we were looking toward," Huntington said.

And if he continues to pitch like that, the Pirates would be hard-pressed to move him back to the minor leagues.

But, despite his velocity, he was a bit more average in his first two starts, earning wins despite struggling to command his secondary pitches. He has faced 74 batters in 182/3 innings and has recorded just eight strikeouts.

Huntington said the Pirates would not move Cole back to Indianapolis just to protect against Super 2 status, which could cost the team millions in arbitration in a couple of years. But by moving Cole back to Indianapolis, even if only for a couple of weeks, he will be much more likely to avoid Super 2 status.

Cole will start Friday at PNC Park against the Milwaukee Brewers, and it's possible Rodriguez could rejoin the rotation Saturday. He threw 73 pitches and allowed one earned run on four hits in four innings in a rehabilitation outing with Indianapolis.

The Pirates soon will have to make a decision on James McDonald (shoulder discomfort), who concluded his rehabilitation assignment Friday. But it appears the Pirates are moving ahead without McDonald in their plans.

Sanchez starts as DH

It's far too early to say if former first-round draft pick Tony Sanchez will stick in the major leagues. But his first career hit got stuck.

Making his major league debut Sunday, he laced a ball toward the right-field wall in his first career at-bat. He missed a home run by about 5 feet, the ball lodged in a small gap in the scoreboard on the wall.

"I didn't think I was going to get the ball back," Sanchez said. "I thought it was stuck there forever."

It was wedged in there pretty well, too. It took an Angel Stadium employee a few good tugs to dislodge it from a crevice.

Sanchez got the start Sunday as the designated hitter, which may seem a bit odd for a player known for his defense who struggled to find his offensive game in the minor leagues.

"I don't find it ironic at all," Hurdle said. "It's good fodder."

Huntington saw a bit more humor in it.

"It's another symbol of things that have been unusual this year," he said. "Not many people would have expected Tony to make his major league debut as a designated hitter."

Right-handed reliever Duke Welker, who has been on the major league roster since Thursday, also made his major league debut Sunday. He pitched one scoreless, hitless inning, striking out one.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published June 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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