Rookie pitcher's emotional control, quick development set up key start
October 4, 2013 8:00 AM
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Gerrit Cole will take the mound in Game 2 of the National League Division Series today against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ST. LOUIS -- The sweet spot for Gerrit Cole lies somewhere between fistfuls of rage and quiet aggression.
A day before the Pirates rookie pitcher makes his major league postseason debut, he spoke calmly at Busch Stadium about the season he has had, the curveball he has developed, and the opportunity that lies in the biggest moment yet of his young career.
But total calm on the mound is not his thing.
"I'm always angry when I'm out there," said Cole, with a faint smirk. "I think there's a quiet aggression that you need to have. A presence you have on the mound, a poise. You don't want to let the other team feed off your outward physical demeanor, but, at the same time, you can't play this game and not expect to just be angry, be competitive, be excited and have that fire in your belly.
"It's something that hangs in the balance. There's a sweet spot you have to get to."
Cole has yet to pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals but he doesn't suspect that will give him much of an advantage. What might though, is his considrable development since his recall in June as evidenced by the fact that he has been at his best down the stretch.
Cole earned a win in his previous five starts with a 1.69 ERA in that span and 39 strikeouts in 32 innings. He said he has gotten more comfortable, and, in turn, sees things, trusts his gut and pitches, and doesn't try to overdo it.
"The game plan ... has evolved as we've gotten further along, and that's because of executing pitches early allows you to do some different things," Cole said. "It's a combination of that and being able to stay within myself out there lately, [which] has been probably the biggest turnaround."
He also has developed a big breaking curveball that helps his fastball thrive. (The one he throws in the very-high 90s and has touched 102.6 according to Pitchf/x.)
"The development of the curveball has really, I think, fine-tuned his entire pitch selection," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "He's gotten out of that 10-to-12 mile radius with the slider, the changeup from 88 to 98, everything was falling on the curveball [that] was about 5 miles slower than that.
"It's made the fastball play bigger."
Cole's development is evident in the numbers and palpable in his demeanor.
"I think over the course of the season, for those of you that have followed our club, you've seen a different Gerrit Cole at the end of the season than you saw when he first walked in the door," Hurdle said.
Unlike some high-profile rookies who have been shut down by this time, Cole has thrived because of a build-up plan in place since Day 1, general manager Neal Huntington said.
"It started from the day he was drafted, building up his pitches doing as much as we could as intelligently as we could to build his pitches so, when he got to the big leagues, he'd be ready to finish a season," Huntington said.
"Clint and Ray [Searage] have done a great job of pushing it, but not pushing it too far and putting him in a position with innings left. He's one of our best four starters."
The plan included managing his emotions.
"One of our challenges was helping him control his adrenaline, control his emotion, mix and match his pitches," Huntington said. "He learned a good lesson last year. Triple-A hitters can hit a hundred. It's allowed him to take a foot off the gas, two-seam the ball, throw a curve or changeup.
"We're ready to see what he can do."
Enough so that Hurdle gladly will hand him the ball for Game 2.
"He has, what I call big-boy pants. He's been wearing 'em since he grew up.
"This guy, he's expected big things out of himself. This will be a great new challenge for him. A great new opportunity, and we're confident it's one that he can meet."