It's cool to watch the radar gun light up, and everybody loves to oooh and ahh about guys who throw close to 100 mph.
Gerrit Cole throws close to 100 mph, which is one of the reasons the Pirates selected him with the No. 1 overall draft pick last year. It's far from the only reason, however, and Cole showed in his Curve debut Wednesday night the other factors that make him such a prized pitching prospect.
His offspeed stuff, particularly his changeup, is outstanding. Not just outstanding for a 21-year-old pitching in his first pro season, but for any pitcher.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Gerrit Cole gets set to deliver a pitch during his Curve debut on Wednesday night at PNG Field.
Curve pitching coach Jeff Johnson already knew Cole has a great changeup, but after seeing it in a game for the first time even he noted, "It was better than I expected."
"He used it very well, and he's not afraid to throw it," Johnson said.
Cole pitched five innings and earned the win in his Double-A debut at Peoples Natural Gas Field, allowing two runs on five hits with six strikeouts and no walks in a 9-4 victory over New Britain. He breezed through the first three innings, retiring the first nine hitters, before allowing single runs in the fourth and fifth.
Cole vs. Strasburg
Gerrit Cole was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, while Stephen Strasburg went No. 1 overall to the Nationals in 2009 and made his minor league debut for Harrisburg in Altoona in 2010. A comparison of their first Double-A starts:
Note: Both pitchers earned the win in their Double-A debut. Harrisburg rallied from a 4-0 deficit, and Strasburg got the victory in a 6-4 game.
"I felt pretty good," said Cole, who threw 74 pitches (52 strikes). "Some butterflies beforehand, but they went away like they always do. ... It was kind of like any other start."
The most hyped debut of a Curve pitcher in history was nowhere near one of the best performances we've ever seen, but Cole's stuff and understanding of how to use it at such a young age give plenty of reason to believe he has a wonderful future ahead of him.
He threw primarily fastballs - in the 96 mph range - the first three innings, then used his changeup and other offspeed pitches more his final two frames. The changeup, which Cole estimated he threw about 12 times, is a wipeout pitch that he feels comfortable throwing in any count.
During a rare minor league postgame press conference, Cole didn't quite know how to answer a question about how good his changeup is, saying, "I have confidence in it."
Curve manager P.J. Forbes, standing off to the side, chimed in at that point, "Hitters will let you know how good it is."
New Britain's hitters showed just that Wednesday as they had little chance against the changeup.
Cole said he learned how to use his offspeed stuff and make it effective during his college career at UCLA.
"It's something that's a necessity because you've got to keep hitters off balance no matter how hard you throw," he said. "It's not about velocity anymore, it's about location and changing speeds."
That's why Stetson Allie is no longer a pitcher in the Pirates' minor league system. The Bucs foolishly fell in love with Allie's 100 mph arm even though he had little pitching experience, and they wasted more than $2 million on him as a pitcher before deciding earlier this month to convert him to an infielder.
Few pitchers in Curve history threw harder than Diego Moreno, who hit 98 mph on occasion. But he simply couldn't pitch at this level - he just threw hard - and it showed last year when one of his 97 mph offerings was crushed for a grand slam.
"Hitting is timing, and pitching is disrupting that timing and keeping them off balance," Forbes said. "The fact that [Cole] played in college, I think, is a benefit because there are times in this game when he's going to have to pitch to no contact, have to pitch to get strikeouts.
"His thing here is understanding the weapons that he has and how to use them, what's going to be most effective in certain situations, and that's going to be his learning curve."
In that regard, Cole already is well ahead of his learning curve.
Johnson said he was watching Wednesday to see if Cole was overthrowing, or "trying to show everybody he can throw 98?"
"I didn't see that tonight," Johnson added. "I was very impressed with that."
Cole's night was interrupted as he was warming up for the fifth inning when one section of lights down the third base line went out. A lamp overheated, Curve GM Rob Egan said, and sent a surge through the lights that blew a fuse.
The delay ended up lasting 22 minutes - officially 15, but Cole was on the field waiting for an extra seven - and it threatened to end the pitcher's night. Fortunately, the lights were reset and came back on just in time, and a decision was made to let Cole keep pitching.
Forbes was glad the delay didn't last longer, which would have forced him to make a tough decision.
"I'm glad he got through five," the manager said. "I think it's important for him to get through five, not just for the win's sake but for psyche's sake, pitch count building up, keeping him where we want him to be."
It also helped the Curve franchise that the lights came back on in time for Cole to continue pitching. It would have been embarrassing, on the biggest night of the season, to have a problem that would have cut short the pitcher's performance.
Cole gave up a run on three hits after coming back out for the fifth and was lifted after the inning. He was slated to go 90 pitches or six innings, but the delay changed the plan.
Still, Cole showed enough in his five innings to prove he's definitely worth the hype, and he likely will spend of the rest of the season in a Curve uniform fine-tuning his tremendous talent.
It should be a lot of fun watching him do just that over the next 2 1/2 months.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.