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Saturday, December 10, 2022

First Pitch: The Red Flags Surrounding Gerrit Cole’s Rehab

Earlier today, Clint Hurdle announced that Gerrit Cole would pitch another bullpen session, and then would make a third rehab start. As Ryan Palencer wrote on Tuesday night, Cole’s second outing didn’t go so well. It wasn’t just the stat line, but the fact that he dropped his velocity in the later innings. Overall, there are a lot of red flags surrounding the right-hander, and it’s not looking good for a quick return.

The first red flag was a comment that Cole made, when he said he felt “pretty brutal” after his first rehab start. Normally when a pitcher is rehabbing, it’s all about extending his innings and getting him back to the point where he can pitch every five days. By the time he’s pitching, he should be free of the injury, both before and after his start. This isn’t always the case, but the guys who still feel bad after the outing don’t usually see a quick return to the majors. Hearing a pitcher saying he feels “pretty brutal” after a start is never a good thing, especially when that pitcher is coming off an injury that put him on the disabled list twice.

The second red flag was the velocity drop in the later innings. Cole said he wasn’t going full effort intentionally, although the timing of things was strange. If he was planning on going less than full effort from the start, then why did he throw 95-97 MPH in the early innings? And if it was a mid-game change, then why did he need to make that change in the middle of the game? It’s possible that this is nothing to be concerned with at all. But generally you don’t hear about a pitcher needing to go less than full effort, followed by that pitcher making a quick return to the majors.

It could be that there’s nothing to worry about at all with Cole. Maybe the brutal feeling after the first outing was only in that outing. Maybe the drop in velocity was intentional, and Cole has things ironed out after that start. But all of that seems to be wishful thinking, and hoping for the best.

It’s possible that Cole could feel better after his second outing, do well in his next rehab start, and return to the Pirates shortly after that. But right now I wouldn’t count on that happening. There are some serious warning signs here. You don’t see pitchers dropping their velocity and talking about feeling brutal, only to see them quickly return to the majors. That’s the kind of stuff that leads to “setbacks” and a return to the DL. Hopefully that’s not the case with Cole, but for now the Pirates can’t bank on a quick return from him.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Austin Meadows Homers Again; Allie and McGuire Also Homer. It’s good to see Meadows starting to heat up from a power standpoint. He has homered two days in a row, with a double on the third day. The power potential was always there, even if he started the year slow. He could make this final month very interesting if he keeps this up.

**Pirates Pitch Inside More Than Any Organization, But is it Wrong? John Dreker and I wrote this, looking at the Pirates’ approach throughout the system in regards to pitching inside. This comes after Tony LaRussa’s comments about how teams shouldn’t pitch inside, despite also commenting on how beneficial pitching inside can be. The quick summary of this article: the Pirates pitch inside, a lot, and all throughout the system. They do so because there are obvious benefits. And LaRussa comes across as someone who is blindly defending the organization he works for with some idiotic reasoning, rather than speaking out against the inexcusable act that the Diamondbacks committed by throwing at Andrew McCutchen.

**On a similar subject, why hasn’t MLB done anything about the Diamondbacks and their continued targeting of top players in retaliation for accidents? I felt like all of the talk the last few days would lead to something coming from MLB’s office. But they’ve been quiet, which means the Diamondbacks are basically allowed to throw at the best players in the game, and possibly injure those players, all without fear of any consequences.

**Prospect Highlights: Alen Hanson Triple, Cole Strikeout, Marte in Center Field

**Minor League Schedule: Tyler Glasnow Headlines a Busy Thursday

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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Not related, but any word as to why the Pirates released Robby Rowland?


I don’t see any red flags, they are working on his slot and his mechanics in general, to me this is ST for Cole.


Question: why hasn’t MLB done anything about the diamondbacks targeting of top players

Answer: Tony LaRussa. Now we see the real reason that he may have been hired out there. It may have nothing to do with improving the team, and everything to do with providing protection from the MLB overlords when the team acts this way. It is obvious it is an organizational choice from the owners previous statements, the the GMs actions in the past to Gibson’s playing and coaching career – and if this is who you are going to be as a team then you might as well have somebody that MLB treats as a god in your front office box.


I think you are off base, the real reason nothing happened is because the Pirates did nothing about it and don’t want to do anything about it, the Pirates are an inside pitching team and they want that to continue, the Pirates would prefer to keep the league out of it.

Chris Hale

I don’t see a problem here. He probably felt “pretty brutal” because he got lit up in a AAA rehab stint. I don’t see an issue with his velocity either. It’s probably smart to dial it down a few notches in the later innings. Though I do think he is a ways away from returning .Couple weeks at least. I really think these two injuries this year are nothing but bad luck. I don’t see being an injury prone kinda guy. He’s a big strong durable right hander.


Yes. Until they tell us what is really the issue then we won’t know. Could be that something minor is tweaked or maybe his mechanics are out of whack. We will see.


Hate to say it, but honestly the best thing for Cole, probably, is to shut it down the rest of the season. Just rest the shoulder because shoulder injuries are nothing to play around with. I do not understand why they continue to have him throw so much…a bullpen followed by a start a day or two later…and then another bullpen. He should be resting the shoulder more than throwing, IF there is something still wrong with him. Ultimately, the Pirates do not need Cole back…they need Cole back to how he was at the end of last season. IF he’s not going to be able to come back and be that guy because of injury then its better to not risk re-injury or setback at all and just put him on the shelf. As much as that would suck…it still is better than really getting him hurt and losing him next year.


There is plenty of evidence around that young pitchers who throw more than 30 innings than they did the previous season either spend a good amount of time on the DL the season following the increase or are much less effective. In Cole’s case, it’s been both.

They are now paying the price. They could have found a way to skip a start or two for Cole last year. He’ll probably be just fine next year…


There is no such evidence.


To say that pitchers on the Verducci list are more likely to experience an injury is correct. However, it’s actually the control group that is more likely to land on the DL. In fact, 29.2 percent of controls spent time on the DL compared to 24.0 percent of the Verducci group (not significant, for the record). Perhaps we might interpret this in context. Teams probably treat their young pitchers gingerly, especially in the context of having pushed them a bit in the previous year. Maybe they are a little more careful with minor injuries and push back a start here and there. But there’s no evidence that Verducci Effect pitchers are more likely to sustain serious injuries. In fact, what evidence is there runs in the opposite direction.

Jason Katsos

How much does the uncertainty of McCutchen, Cole, and Walker play into NH’s decisions going forward? Does he feel pressured to make some type of big splash to fill the void created by them? Does he go on like nothing has changed? Just looking for good deals, possibly cheap bullpen or bench help. Or is he less likely to pull the trigger on a deal now? The Central seems pretty wide open. And winning the division not only means avoiding the 1 game WC playoff, but also likely avoiding the 1st round matchup versus the Dodgers (Kershaw and Grienke in a 5 game seriers),
Is there any scenario where the Bucs actually become sellers? I realize they are only 1.5 games out of 1st.. But after the SD series we have a brutal stretch of schedule:
2 vs DET
2 @ Det.
3 @ Wash
3 vs Atl,
3 @ Mil
3 vs STl,
3 vs Cin,
3 @ Stl
If we struggle during this stretch, and still have questions marts around the health of McCutchen, Cole, and Walker in 2-3 weeks, what happens?


I see the tougher schedule as a good thing. Either the Buccos man up and play up to the best competition these next few weeks or they slide out of reasonable contention. Let’s see how they do. Yes, having Cutch and Walker hurt is certainly not helpful but other clubs have their injuries also.


Jason: There are reasons to be concerned, but the Pirates have played 12 games above .500 baseball since the beginning of June. Much of that without a lot of input from Cole. He is very important to us, but guys like Liriano, Worley, Morton, Volquez, and Locke have all stepped up their games lately. ‘Cutch and Walker are our two best HR and RBI guys and we cannot go too long with both of them gone. They are the middle of our order and we need at least one, if not both, back in the lineup. And we are not set up in 2014 to have Alvarez as a part-time guy. Put him in the lineup whether he hits .150, .250, or .350 and then make decisions when this season ends.


Rumor has it that Byrd was claimed by someone yesterday


after that stretch of tough games, life gets muuuuch easier.

they just have to stay kiiind of in the race to have a shot.

get well soon, andrew.


The Cards beat Kershaw & Greinke in a 5 game series just last year. Let’s remember that the Dodgers would have to hit to win. And they haven’t been really good about that when facing Bucs this year.

Lukas Sutton

Bucs also havent faced Kershaw in those games and Greinke once. 5 game series sees Kershaw twice.


Negative Nellie. And Greinke lost that game. 4 ER in 6 IP. In his home park. Kershaw has 4 starts vs. Bucs, 2 wins, 2 NDs. In all but one of those games our starter pitched about as well as he did.

Lukas Sutton

Im just being realistic, in a 5 game series we see Kershaw twice and almost certainly lose 1. Meaning if we split between Greinke and Ryu, its the 5th game that decides it. That is a pretty generous estimate for Pirate fans and still means you gotta beat Kershaw in a game 5. This team may be playoff good, but any type of offensive outburst from LAD and they win that series.

Andy Prough

Tim – you should take a moment to read the Trib before posting something like this. Most of your questions about reduced velocity are answered in an interview with Hurdle on their Pirates Notebook story they posted earlier tonight. Short version – the reduction in velocity was intentional, as they were working on mechanics, delivery and arm-slot.

Andy Prough

I did read it, but it just seems to me that Hurdle’s quotes were relevant to answering the questions you posed in the article: “It was a geared-down game for him,” Hurdle said. “We gave him a couple goals going in. We wanted him to repeat his delivery and maintain arm slot. … The bigger picture is we need to put this stuff in place this time out and not be reactionary to what results we might not get.”

Then again, maybe I’m wrong – you are the one with the sources.

Bryan Graham

Regardless of what Clint said, I’m not buying it.

Matt Beam

why not the opposite approach? start at 91-92 and focus on mechanics and then ramp up the velocity after 2-3 innings if feeling good; I’ve seen this many times before but never heard of this approach that Cole described


I believe Tim indicated that, but raised questions about the viability of that due to timing. Did you read Tim’s article?


I guess we will find out after the next rehab start what direction cole is going, with the track record the pirates have getting pitchers back on track I think I’ll just go with what they say until proven otherwise.


I’m sort of confused by the timeline of events as well as the logic with this situation. According to NH on Sunday, Cole has been begging to return back to the MLB roster, but now we hear from Cole that he isn’t feeling very well after his rehab. Something doesn’t add up there, especially if Cole understands that his velocity is dropping. Second question I have is why are they continuing to schedule him to pitch when he is having issues with his arm? If he’s still hurt, then let him rest the arm. If you know he’s seriously injured, then please shut him down. It’s not worth the risk to the young man, and putting it off is only going to prolong the down time and risk further injury.


I am confused by your confusion. Cole pitched well / felt good in his first outing and probably express that he was eager to return to MLB action. Had some sort of set back and was scratched from a start on Saturday probably as a precaution. When NH was asked about it on Sunday he said that Cole was begging to get back. Then Cole pitched / felt poorly on Tuesday. What is difficult to understand about that timeline/logic? That there was a setback between his first and second starts seems plainly obvious. That Cole was eager to return after his first start? That is hardly shocking. Cole’s velocity dropped in his second start…after the comments by NH. Nobody, but you, said anything about his arm and it seems pretty plain that they are being careful with him. They don’t need you or I to tell them to be careful with one of the franchised most important assets.

If I may go on a brief tangent here…boy am I glad that the Pirates didn’t mortgage their future at the trade deadline to take their shot this season.

Scott Kliesen

Moose, do you think it’s possible Cole wants to get back up because he’s a competitor and he hates it that he’s not helping the team? And the Pirates are keeping him down because they want to be certain he’s physically ready to avoid what happened the last time he came back from DL?


That’s why Coles comments about his first start make no sense. If he is actually begging to get back, why is he talking about how terrible his arm feels after his first start.

Lukas Sutton

He never said his arm felt terrible, he said he felt brutal. Could be his arm, could be his lack of stamina making him feel sore and tired in an unusual way.


Cole wants to get back; he also feels terrible. Lke chewing gum, and walking – at the same time.


Cole has also said he doesn’t want another game like his last one with the Pirates and won’t come back until he feels he can be competitive and help the team win instead of just showing up as a shell of himself.


The Bucs desperately need Cole this year, but for his long term health/success and the Bucs long term success shutting him down may not be the worst idea if after his next rehab start he’s still having these issues.

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