ST. LOUIS -- When Pirates coaches told Gerrit Cole in spring training he was not going to make the team's opening-day roster, the right-handed pitcher didn't thank the club for the opportunity or quietly pack his things and head to minor league camp.
Cole stewed at his locker at Mc-Kechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., diplomatically telling reporters he was irked by the team's decision to send him back to the minor leagues.
Now, the pitcher who was too young, too raw, too emotional to make the club on opening day will have it on his right arm to keep the storybook season alive. And the Pirates couldn't be happier.
"We're not going to hit 1.000 on everybody as far as the due date," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We don't hit 1.000 on everybody with the expiration date."
But in Cole, it appears a June promotion to the major leagues has worked out perfectly for both parties. Even if it wasn't entirely intentional.
While many, Cole included, believed the team's decision to send him back to the minor leagues was purely financial -- the Pirates could delay his arbitration and free agency by keeping him there -- many in the front office were convinced he was not ready for major league action at the start of the season.
He entered the season with just 132 innings pitched in the minor leagues, well below the 200-inning plateau the Pirates hope for pitching prospects. His strikeout numbers were low and his secondary pitches were underdeveloped. And underneath those tangible statistics was a fiery, 22-year-old pitcher who did little to hide his occasional frustrations on the mound.
Ideally, the Pirates front office wanted to wait well past June to introduce Cole, now 23, to the majors. Injuries to James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez -- and a delay in Charlie Morton's rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery -- left a hole in the rotation two months into the season.
So the team turned to Cole for an open-ended invitation to the starting rotation.
"I didn't know how long it was going to be," Cole said. "I did understand the situation. ... I didn't try to think about it too much. Now all of a sudden it felt like we were in September, and all of a sudden I had gotten a lot better."
Since his major league debut June 11, Cole has been the Pirates' most consistent pitcher. He has never allowed more than four earned runs in a start. He has never pitched fewer than five innings in a start. And in the past month, he has been borderline dominant.
"What we've seen since Gerrit has been here has been a young man that continues to improve," Hurdle said. "He uses his eyes very well. He uses his ears very well. The competitive edge when he takes the mound, it's visible. The emotion that he pitches with, I think you've been able to see over the course of time, that's special."
After the Pirates were crushed in a 9-1 Game 1 loss, Cole delivered in Game 2 with a stellar outing, allowing one earned run on two hits in six innings.
That a rookie could deliver such a performance in a high-pressure situation speaks to his courage or his naivete. Maybe both.
"Part of my strength this year is being able to stay really focused -- stay in the present and not look too far ahead or dwell too much on the past," Cole said. "And that's what I've done this week."
The Pirates promoted Cole because of need -- not because of desire. If Rodriguez had stayed healthy, it's likely Cole would not have been promoted for another month, if not longer. If that was the case, then the Pirates wouldn't be able to turn to a budding ace to pitch Game 5 of the National League Division Series against one of baseball's best pitchers, Adam Wainwright.
The volume of work, Hurdle said, put Cole in position to make this pivotal start.
"Things work out for a reason," Hurdle said.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM