Cole battles back after struggling in first again

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MILWAUKEE -- Six pitches into Gerrit Cole's start Tuesday night, Norichika Aoki was on base with a walk.

Four batters later, the Pirates trailed the Milwaukee Brewers by a run on back-to-back hits.

If that sounds familiar, so does the rest.

It morphed into another typical Cole start, as the Pirates rookie recovered to retire 12 of his final 13 batters in a strong six inning, two-run performance on a night his team reached that long awaited milestone: Win No. 81 with a 4-3 victory at Miller Park.

"[Manager] Clint [Hurdle] said to me a couple times: 'You really put your foot down today.' That was fun," said Cole. "This one's on [catcher Russell Martin]. He recognized what I had today and kept 'em just off balance enough behind the plate, called a [heck] of a game, blocked some balls. Defense was excellent. As long as I can trust those guys I can at least put myself in a position to do what I did later in the game."

Cole's line was 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts in his third start against the Brewers.

His first inning ERA rose to 6.00 but he allowed just three runners to reach base after that, and struck out two in the sixth -- including Carlos Gomez on a 98 mph fastball.

"I still think he's going to find better rhythm to start the game. That seems to be a challenge for him," Hurdle said. "Once he gets through that rush or whatever, he makes pitches. You saw how efficient he was at the end. It's been very similar to a lot of the outings he's had."

Aoki walked on six pitches to open the first and advanced to third on a double by Jean Segura to right field. A two-run single by Jonathan Lucroy gave the Brewers a 2-1 lead.

But Cole gloved a line drive by Aramis Ramirez and doubled off Lucroy before Neil Walker dropped back to snag a Gomez pop up in shallow right to end the inning.

Cole settled in and struck out Ramirez on an 84 mph breaking ball to end the third, then struck out Khris Davis on a slider to end the fourth.

He said he does get a better feel for his off-speed pitches later in starts, and it also helps to be familiar with the lineup.

Cole has faced the Brewers three times, which is more than any other major league team. And he last saw them just five days ago in a 4-0 loss.

"I think you're a little more comfortable going it. You've seen them before. You know what to expect," he said. "At the same time the level of execution has to be even better ... I think it's an advantage for both teams. That's what it makes this work so much fun.

"We play these guys so many times. They know what we're going to throw. We know what they're going to swing at. It's just mano-a-mano and the better team ends up taking the series towards the end of the year."

Cole threw 92 pitches, 59 for strikes, and left for pinch-hitter Garrett Jones in the seventh with the score tied, 2-2. Cole entered the game with a 1-1 record against Milwaukee and 4.50 ERA.

And Tuesday -- on what was a big night in franchise history -- he took another step forward in his development, his manager said.

"You've got a young man who goes up and has the first inning challenges that he has and pitches through it," Hurdle said. "Only gives up two runs. Walked one guy. He scored. The balls were well placed in the outfield to plate the two runs. It's not like the guy got barreled. He learns every time out there."


Jenn Menendez: and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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