Gerrit Cole seems to evolve more and more into an ace each time he pitches this season.
But there’s been a few exceptions.
The Cincinnati Reds have been able to pause that evolution in each of their three games against Cole in 2015. In his career, Cole is 0-3 with a 5.53 ERA against Cincinnati after the Pirates lost 5-2 Wednesday.
The Reds tagged him for five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. It was the first outing this season Cole gave up more than three runs and failed to pitch at least five innings.
Cole is now 11-3 this season with a 2.16 ERA, still a stellar line for any pitcher.
But against the Reds this year, he is 0-2 in three starts with a 6.75 ERA. Cole has allowed 23 earned runs on the season, 11 of which were scored in 14 2/3 innings by Cincinnati.
In 12 starts against the rest of the league Cole is 11-1 with a 1.33 ERA. So how have the Reds, now 33-37, been the one team that seems to repeat some success against one of the game’s best pitchers?
They make him work. Hard.
Cole hasn’t lasted more than five innings in any of his three starts against Cincinnati. He needed 92 pitches to get through his first start of the year April 8 at Great American Ballpark, then another 91 to pitch five frames at home May 6.
Wednesday, the story was no different.
The Reds made Cole throw at least five pitches in 11 of their 24 plate appearances against him.
Of Cole’s 106 pitches thrown Wednesday night, 40 of them were delivered with two strikes in the count.
The right-hander said he didn’t bring out his best delivery which caused complications in matchups with hitters.
“I was kind of throwing across my body tonight, didn’t really have a good change of planes on the fastball or the breaking ball,” Cole said. “I think that contributed a lot to the foul balls and not being able to put guys away.”
While the Reds aren’t contenders as in years past they still boast a potent offense with solid players who have seen and hit a few pitches in their day. Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Marlon Byrd are a few that come to mind.
“They’ve got some veteran presence in that lineup that from time to time is able to throw up some pretty good at-bats against him,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Cincinnati scored four runs on Cole in the first as Frazier and Bruce hit back-to-back RBI doubles. Byrd followed Bruce by sending the first-pitch fastball he saw from Cole into the bushes behind center field.
All five of Cincinnati’s runs scored came with two outs.
“They were very selectively-aggressive tonight, especially in the first inning,” Cole said. “When they got a pitch they were looking for and knew that they could handle, they put good swings on the ball and that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
On Frazier’s double, the inning could have ended. As Starling Marte saved a run in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game by laying out to catch a low line drive off Frazier’s bat with a man on third, Gregory Polanco was unable to do the same.
Frazier reached out to poke a slider from Cole that was low and away into right field that a sliding Polanco couldn’t wrangle to end the inning with the game still scoreless.
“There was a tipping point,” Hurdle said. “He was one pitch away from getting out of the inning.”
Cincinnati scored in the fifth when Byrd knocked Votto home and Cole out of the game.
While Cole has dominated, or at least found a way to win, just about every time he’s been on the mound, there’s always the potential for the bug-windshield dichotomy.
“He’s a human being,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes it’s just not going to work. He’s going to do everything he can to get outs and win games and pitch well. Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Usually the windshield, and an intimidating one at that, Cole was just the bug.
“It came down to not executing pitches and just being flat today,” Cole said. “It happens sometimes.”
And even though the Reds have found success against him, don’t think manager Bryan Price and his clubhouse look forward to his time on the mound.
“I don’t look and say, ‘Hey we’re getting Gerrit Cole this time through, I sure am happy about that,’” Price said. “There’s certain starters in the league where you’re going I hope that guy ends up pitching against us because we hit him really, really good. But Gerrit Cole is not one of them. We beat him typically in low-scoring games, if we beat him.”