Cole finds groove in fourth outing with Pirates


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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole made his fourth appearance of the spring Sunday, but this start marked the first time starting catcher Russell Martin was behind the plate.

Asked what it was like, the Pirates' top pitching prospect answered, "It was good. Hopefully I can work with him a lot more."

That won't happen immediately this season since he will begin the year with Class AAA Indianapolis, but the reunion is probably not far off, especially if Cole pitches like he did Sunday. Against a Baltimore Orioles lineup featuring Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters, Cole allowed two runs on two hits in four innings, walking one and striking out two in a 5-2 Pirates win at Ed Smith Stadium.

A home run from Ryan Flaherty after his only walk accounted for both runs. Flaherty hit a 2-0 fastball to right-center field in the fourth.

"I fell behind him and I had to make a good pitch, and I made a good pitch," Cole said. "I'm pumping fastballs all day, they're bound to catch up to one of them."

Cole will start the season in Indianapolis, but depending on his performance -- and how long the Pirates wait to start the clock on his major league service time, which affects the date he is eligible for salary arbitration and eventually free agency -- he could reach Pittsburgh in midseason. When he does, he'll have a fan.

"He's a smart kid," Martin said. "Of course he's got ability like not a lot of people have, but he's pitching out there with his mind and he has a plan. I feel like he's pretty polished for a young guy."

The Orioles lineup, which also featured Nate McLouth, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado and resembled a major league squad, was not lost on Cole. Nor was the fact that Martin played in the American League East Division for the past two seasons with the New York Yankees and knew the Orioles players well.

"A guy like Wieters stands out because he made the adjustment the second time through the lineup," Cole said. "He didn't really cheat on the fastball, he kept his hands in and turned on it. You got to recognize guys like that who can do that."

Martin returned to the field for the first time since Feb. 24 after spending time as the designated hitter while he waited for shoulder soreness to dissipate.

"I felt great," he said. "My throws to second base, I felt like I was throwing about 80 percent. I don't think I ever need to throw 100 percent because I feel like I'm not as accurate when I do. I feel like I could if I needed to.

"No setbacks, no flare-ups in my shoulder. I didn't take any Advil, I didn't take anything. I feel 100 percent."

Five Pirates relievers -- Mark Melancon, Kyle Waldrop, Hunter Strickland, Justin Wilson and Ryan Reid -- combined to throw five shutout innings against the Orioles.

"If you think about it, there's been some moments when we haven't been able to do that," said bench coach Jeff Banister, who came to Sarasota while manager Clint Hurdle traveled to Fort Myers for the split-squad game. "Clint continues to talk to these players about the commitment to compete every day, and go out and compete, whatever you have that day, at a championship level."

Win vs. Twins

The other Pirates defeated the Minnesota Twins, 7-4, at Hammond Stadium. Gaby Sanchez, Tony Sanchez and Andrew McCutchen each homered.

Starter Jonathan Sanchez allowed two runs on two hits in two innings, walking one and striking out one. He allowed a home run to Josh Willingham in the first.

Left-hander Mike Zagurski pitched a scoreless inning and struck out two. He has not allowed a run in five appearances this spring.

Taillon impressive

Jameson Taillon pitched four innings and allowed two runs, one earned, for Team Canada in a 9-4 loss Sunday to the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Taillon, 21, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect, walked one and struck out three while allowing four hits.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said neither Taillon nor Chris Leroux, another Pirates pitcher on Canada's staff, were injured in the fight Saturday night between Canada and Mexico.

Leroux, who started that game, allowed one unearned run in three innings, walking one and striking out four.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published March 11, 2013 4:00 AM


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