Gerrit Cole made only four starts at Peoples Natural Gas Field, which is a shame because it could be a long, long time -- if ever -- before Curve fans get to see another pitcher with such electrifying stuff as the 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick.
Cole's Curve tenure came to an end Wednesday when the Pirates promoted the 21-year-old phenom to Triple-A. The first-year flamethrower, who consistently hits 100 mph on the radar gun and complements it with filthy offspeed pitches, was promoted to Altoona on June 15, made his debut five days later and needed only 2 1/2 months to prove himself at this level.
"His stuff is just unbelievable," fellow prized pitching prospect Jameson Taillon said of Cole following the Curve's 2-1 walk-off win over Akron before 3,319 fans at PNG Field.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Gerrit Cole pitches at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona.
Cole was gone and his locker cleared out by game's end. He made 12 starts overall for the Curve -- eight on the road, making his time with the team seem even shorter -- and went 3-6 with a 2.90 ERA.
"We thought this was a good opportunity to get him up to Triple-A and to get into the playoffs and face those challenges up there," Pirates minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell said of Cole, who received a franchise-record $8 million signing bonus.
"He's got plenty enough stuff to pitch in the big leagues right now," Mitchell added.
At this point, there has been no indication the Pirates plan to promote Cole to the majors this year. He's likely to start next season in Triple-A, then possibly could be called up to Pittsburgh once the Super 2 arbitration-eligible period ends in mid-to-late June.
Cole pitched 59 innings for the Curve, giving up 54 hits while striking out 60 and walking 23. He held opposing hitters to a .239 average and had a 1.31 WHIP. He also became the first pitcher in franchise history to throw 100 mph, doing so in numerous starts.
His last start was Monday against Akron, when he threw a career-high 110 pitches and was stretched into the seventh inning for the first time as a pro.
Cole, who turns 22 on Sept. 8, will make one regular-season start for Indianapolis, then will be available to start and go deep into games as long as the team remains alive in the playoffs. He's at 126 innings so far, and Mitchell said the pitcher will not be on any kind of restrictions, plus that it would be ideal if he could get up to 160 innings.
"For me, this was deserved," Mitchell said. "It is a challenge for him to go up there and face men. There's some guys [in Triple-A] that have got a lot of years in the big leagues, and also pitching into the postseason, which that experience is invaluable."
Curve manager P.J. Forbes used an interesting choice of words to describe the promotion.
"This was not something earned but something that was kind of thrown at him to challenge him," Forbes said.
Asked if he thought Cole had not earned the call-up, Forbes said, "This is to challenge him. We bring guys to Double-A all the time that maybe haven't earned being here but to challenge them to see where they're at."
The one area where Cole did not excel during his time in Double-A was with pith efficiency. He often needed 90-plus pitches just to get through five or six innings, and two starts ago he needed 98 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings.
"I told him to approach it as an opportunity to go up there and prove that he can pitch and be successful at that level and challenged him to use all his weapons and finish innings, because that was his Achilles heel, he struggled to finish innings," Forbes said before adding, "He gets two quick outs here, and the next thing you know he's walked a guy."
Mitchell said it's not unusual for first-year pitchers to struggle with pitch efficiency, especially the college guys because they're used to pitching away from the metal bat.
"The challenge for him is trusting his fastball and that fastballs can break bats," Mitchell said. "I expect him to go up there, challenge hitters and help Indy win a championship."
Taillon was a teammate of Cole's at the beginning of the season at high-A Bradenton and said he was able to get used to the pro lifestyle quickly.
"The tough thing for him is his stuff is just so unbelievably good, honestly hitters have a tough time putting it in play, so he gets a lot of takes," Taillon said. "And if it's a ball it's a ball, they're not really swinging at it at this level and they foul a lot of pitches off because they just can't catch up to his stuff, he's got such great stuff."
SUBHD: Walk-off win
Stefan Welch walked with the bases loaded to force in the winning run and give the Curve a 2-1 victory Wednesday. Altoona tied it up at 1-1 in the eighth on an RBI single by Welch, then found a way to win in its next at-bat.
"This team has been resilient all year," Forbes said, then added, "Regardless of how they look the first seven innings, they don't quit."
Tim Alderson (5-4) won in relief after Brandon Cumpton skated around 11 hits to allow just one run in seven innings. Trey Haley (3-1) lost in relief for Akron.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: 3B Stefan Welch went 2-for-3 and drove in both Curve runs.
Key play: Welch walked with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth to bring home the winning run.
Key stat: The Curve enter their final home game today with a 43-27 record at PNG Field.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 7th: Hernandez doubled, scored on Holt groundout (0-1).
Bottom 8th: Santos doubled, scored on Welch single (1-1).
Bottom 9th: Lambo walked, scored on Welch bases-loaded walk (2-1).