Over the weekend at PirateFest, several players and Ray Searage met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. Here are some notes from a few of those interviews, starting with a few notes from Searage.
**Gerrit Cole was up and down in 2014, but showed flashes of his ace potential, especially in the month of September when he had a 45:6 K/BB ratio to go along with a 2.55 xFIP in 39.1 innings pitched.
Ray Searage believes that Cole has matured a great deal, but still has plenty of room to grow. Cole made a couple of mechanical adjustments throughout the 2014 season to improve his arm action, but his mental approach was what really made the difference as the season progressed.
“His mental approach was max effort on everything.” Searage explained. “He had to learn how to pitch. He had to learn how to add and subtract because the way things were going he was one of those guys who thought more is better.”
This mental approach played a role on Cole’s lat injury that occurred in early June, causing a trip to the Disabled List until the end of August. The injury happened during the west coast trip when the Pirates visited Los Angeles and San Diego. Growing up in Newport Beach, Cole had family and friends in attendance at Dodgers Stadium to watch him pitch. Searage believes that Cole was pushing himself too hard and putting an abnormal amount of strain on his body in an attempt to perform his best in front of his friends and family. Cole’s next start against the Padres pushed his injury over the edge, where he was forced to leave the game because of the lat strain.
“He was maxing out on everything, and I was trying to tell him [to back off]. He’s young and he’s still impressionable, so we had to back him off and put him on the DL,” Searage said. Cole’s improved approach led to a stellar month of September, and Searage believes Cole will carry it over into 2015.
**Charlie Morton is progressing well in his rehab from off-season right hip surgery. Morton had a similar procedure to repair his left hip in 2011, so he has experience with the rehab process. As previously reported, Morton has already begun a throwing program and the next step for him is to start throwing off of the mound. Dealing with pain is the biggest challenge that Morton faces because of the range of motion when throwing off of the mound and the amount of stress that is placed on his repaired hip. Morton is optimistic that he will be ready for the start of the season, but pitching coach Ray Searage tempered those expectations.
“I have to see how he reacts in Spring Training to the bullpens and batting practices, and when he raises the intensity level facing guys in Spring Training. I’m cautiously optimistic,” Searage said. We will know more about Morton’s condition in the early stages of Spring Training.
**John Holdzkom’s story has been well-documented and was one of the best human interest stories of the 2014 baseball season. But what everyone quickly discovered is that the Pirates may have found themselves a dominant right-handed relief option with his firm mid-90s cutter that yielded a .136 BAA. A question heading into the 2015 season is whether or not Holdzkom can duplicate the success he had in 2014 and establish himself as the late inning relief option that the Pirates missed in 2014. Developing more consistency in his off-speed pitch that he can combine with his hard cutter is Holdzkom’s main focus heading into Spring Training. He relied heavily on his cutter, throwing it 94% of the time in 2014. If he is able to develop his off-speed pitch into a reliable secondary offering, it will be harder for the league to adjust to him.
**Gregory Polanco will head into the 2015 season with the knowledge that he will be the starting right fielder, but this has not changed his mindset heading into Spring Training.
“[It] feels good, but you never take it for granted; you have to keep working,” Polanco said. “You have to come into Spring Training ready, and to try to make the team every year. Even after 10 years in the big leagues, Albert Pujols says he goes to Spring Training to try to make the team. I will be ready to play from day one until the last day of the season.”
2014 was a long and grueling year for Polanco. Prior to the start of the season, Polanco played in the Winter Leagues in the Dominican Republic, then soon after reported to Florida for Spring Training. Polanco played baseball non-stop for over an entire year, which he admitted may have caught up to him and wore him out mentally and physically for the second half of the 2014 season. Polanco took some time off this winter in the Dominican, and feels rejuvenated and ready for the 2015 season.