Gerrit Cole picked up his third straight victory and had his best outing of his young career as the Pirates touched up the Angels for four early runs and had a really strong all around game in the first game of a short West coast trip. Cole pretty much dominated the Angels and finally went to his bag of tricks, utilizing his full arsenal of pitches to baffle LA for much of the game. Watching how Cole pitched tonight is why I get so excited about the draft and the prospect of players coming through the system. This was fun stuff.
Cole was really, really good on the night. Not that Cole wasn't good in his first two starts but both of those starts left a little bit to be desired from the guy who was supposed to be the front line starter. In those two starts he relied heavily on the fastball and while that worked early in the game teams were able to see the ball well and put some good wood on it since they were mostly four-seam fastballs with not much movement on them. Tonight was a much different story as Cole mixed in his change up much more and also threw the curve/slider/slurve a lot more. The results were much better than the first two outings. Cole ran into some trouble in the seventh inning that he wasn't able to get out of but for the first six innings it was honestly surprising that the Angels were even able to get a hit. That was how good Cole was.
On the gun Cole was throwing it as hard as he ever had reaching 101 a couple of times and consistently sitting in the 96-97 MPH range through the seventh inning when he exited. What was really ridiculous was that he was throwing his slider around 92 and his change up around 93. Yea, a 93 MPH change up. Just sick. Now, I don't think you want to make it a habit of throwing your change up at 93 but I think it was a case of him being around a lot of family and friends and he was amped up. I would like to see that change up around 85-86 but it was working tonight. Actually his change up had me confused a little early as it looked like a two-seam fastball but a little AGH camera action showed the change up grip and it was really eye opening to see. Speaking of the two-seam fastball it seemed like he used that a good bit more tonight and the movement on the pitch was pretty fun to see. Just as I (and most) expected when Cole started using more of his secondary stuff he was able to get more strikeouts. He had five punch outs on the night and got Albert Pujols twice and Mike Trout once and all three of those K's he made them look silly. Just an overall really impressive game from Cole even if he couldn't finish off the seventh inning.
The offense really came to play tonight and really made things hard for Jared Weaver. Weaver hasn't been as good as he was last year but the Pirates were all over him early and often. They jumped out a 4-0 lead that was spearheaded by a solo home run by Pedro Alvarez (ho hum) and a two run bomb from Jordy Mercer, both in the second inning. Starling Marte tripled for what seems like the billionth time (off a ball that Angels CF Peter Bourjos lost in the lights) that drove home Neil Walker. All-in-all Weaver was still able to pitch six innings but the Pirates got nine hits off him and four runs. I will take that.
Mercer just keeps on hitting. Three more hits tonight and now has a .290/.339/.495 line with the Pirates and he has been getting every day shortstop play which is what he deserves. While people still underrate his defensive ability I think he is still not as good of a defender as Clint Barmes is but the offense is way outweighing any defensive falloff that might come from him playing over Barmes. It has been a welcome sight to get some offensive production from the shortstop position.
Alvarez is in one of those zones right now. He blasted a second inning home run to open up the scoring for the Pirates and finished with a 2-for-3 night to bump his triple slash line to a healthy (for him) .229/.298/.480. After a really slow start to the season he now has 17 home runs and has driven in 49 runs. He still is going to strike out a lot and will not give you what you expect out of the number two overall pick but he is playing some good overall baseball right now. He looks as comfortable at the plate that I can ever remember and now he sits as a 1.4 fWAR player with a 112 wRC+. Pretty good for a guy only hitting .229 with a 33% strikeout rate.
Pretty amazing that you could say Andrew McCutchen has had a slow start to the season and he is still at .289/.359/.447 clip with 22 doubles. He's so good at baseball.
Very good win tonight. The Pirates now move to 14 games over .500 and while they aren't always playing great baseball they are getting wins and stacking them. Sure a bad streak of games is bound to happen (like it did for a stretch against Atlanta and Cincinnati) but when you can build up wins to cushion that blow it helps.
Back at it tomorrow.