On March 19, Gerrit Cole had his best spring-training outing to date. The Pirates pitcher struck out five and gave up only one run, and the control on his fastball was pretty masterful. But when he met with reporters after the game, it was his other performance that started the conversation.
Cole went 1-2 at the plate with a two-run single, and almost a stolen base. He took second on a pitch in the dirt; the official scorer didn’t award him the steal, but he wasn’t discouraged.
“That’s all right. I’m not chasing stolen bags, I’m chasing stars,” Cole said referring to the “Stargell Stars” that coaches hand out for standout performances. He was looking for one from Kimera Bartee, the Bucs’ first-base and base-running coach. “And what we say in here is the fastest way to get a star is to get 90 feet. KB’s real generous with those stars, so I’m hoping I get my first one.”
Cole even impressed his manager, Clint Hurdle. “It’s called a dirtball read,” Hurdle said with a smile. “He loves to compete, you’ve all seen him. He loves to play. It was a Little League effort out there today: He drove in a couple of runs, pitched five innings and only gave up one run. It was good stuff.”
Pirates fans should be as excited about Cole’s performance on that day as Hurdle — not by the numbers necessarily, but by the exuberance he displayed. He showed his love and passion for the game. In the third inning, for example, Pirate Alen Hanson made two fantastic throws from left field to catch runners at the plate. When the out was called, Cole jumped and pointed approvingly at Hanson. “Yeah, so that was the game plan in the third,” Cole joked.
After an extremely disappointing 2016 season where Cole was besieged by injury and subpar performance, to see him excited and pumped up in the preseason is a good sign. He spent most of spring training last year battling a rib injury, and that was just the start of a very rough year.
As the Pirates enter the 2017 season, Cole will be expected to be a rock for the starting rotation, as three young arms join him and fellow veteran Ivan Nova. As young pitchers go through growing pains early in the season, the Pirates will need a consistent, solid performance from Cole every five days.
Leading by example might be the most important attribute Cole brings to the table this year. That’s why it’s so important for him to show passion in every facet of his game, be it on the mound or at the plate. He’s also working hard off the field, keeping a schedule so strict that he wasn’t able to watch his Pirates teammates play in the World Baseball Classic. But he still managed to stay up-to-date in the most efficient way possible.
“It’s pretty early days around here, so I keep my bedtime pretty regimented,” Cole explained. “But I do catch the highlights in the morning on the john, so that’s good.”