Gerrit Cole Continues Getting Hit Hard in Pirates Loss to Marlins

PITTSBURGH — Gerrit Cole is having trouble keeping the ball down.

That was the analysis both Cole and manager Clint Hurdle offered after Cole’s fourth straight ugly start Thursday in a 7-1 loss to the Miami Marlins.

Cole allowed seven runs on 11 hits in just 4.2 innings. Early, it was hard-hit balls and the Marlins roped five doubles in the first four innings. Later, it was softer contact, as the Miami hitters found grass with five straight singles in the fifth.

In particular, it was the failing in the fifth inning — all five hits came with two outs — that had Cole upset after the game.

“There were a lot of base hits that were not necessarily scorched, at least compared to earlier in the game, but I failed to get them on the ground,” he said. “I’m looking for those balls to be hit on the ground to the shortstop instead of lofted six feet over the infield.”

“Balls were just elevated,” added Hurdle. “Those balls, if they’re down in the zone, they’re mis-hits. They’re fisted. If they’re up, they find outfield grass versus being on the ground.”

You can see that Cole did indeed leave a lot of his pitches that inning in the upper-middle part of the zone, particularly the four-seam fastball.

Gerrit Cole’s fifth inning. (Baseball Savant)

But if Cole was trying to get ground balls, shouldn’t he have been throwing more two-seamers? He fired off just two in the fifth and 14 all game (14.9 percent) compared to 44 four-seamers (46.8 percent). In his career, he’s thrown the two-seamer about 17.7 percent of the time, so throwing it less than normal (even if just by a pitch or two) on a night where he was having trouble keeping the ball down seemed unusual.
I asked Cole if he thought the issues he’s been having were somehow affecting the two-seamer in a different way. He didn’t bite.

“The lack of depth is showing up on everything,” he said.

So I looked deeper for a reason that Cole might be hesitant to lean on his sinker. In 2017, opposing hitters are batting .333 on it on balls in play, which might have Cole and the staff hesitant based on outcomes rather than results.

But there’s more. It also isn’t really doing its job. In 2016, which was a down year for Cole overall, his two-seam fastball got ground balls 57.9 percent of the time — his best pitch in that regard. This season, it’s inducing grounders just 45.2 percent of the time — behind his slider, change and curve. It’s also generating swinging strikes at a minuscule 4.7 percent of the time. It also hasn’t been reliably down in the zone, either. (This is from the pitcher’s point of view.)

Gerrit Cole’s 2017 two-seam pitch locations. (Fangraphs)

So Cole’s two-seam fastball is getting fewer swings-and-misses, it’s getting hit more often and when it gets hit, it’s going for fewer ground balls and more hits. I’d say Cole has a pretty good reason to avoid leaning on it. The question now is what he can do about getting it back to a better place.

MORE SPOTS, MORE OFFENSE

Max Moroff entered the game as a defensive substitute and played four innings at shortstop, for his first appearance at that position in the majors. Moroff has spent a significant time working at shortstop in Indianapolis, and he said he felt comfortable there, even doing it for the first time in the majors.

“I felt fine out there,” he said. “I’ve been getting my reps in Triple A and have been pretty much playing every day since Gift [Ngoepe] came up.”

Now that Ngoepe is back down, Moroff will be the primary backup to Jordy Mercer at the shortstop position. Moroff and Phil Gosselin, who has also played shortstop, entered the game defensively at the same time. Hurdle put Gosselin at third, giving Moroff the nod at short.

“The more positions that I can play, the more opportunities there are for a double switch or spot starting, whatever it may be,” Moroff said.

In fact, Moroff said he feels so comfortable at shortstop it wasn’t really on his mind Thursday night. He’s been more focused on cutting down his strikeouts at the plate. He only got one at-bat against the Marlins, but struck out for the third time in 17 MLB plate appearances this season.

“I just need to have a better two-strike approach and the put the ball into play,” Moroff said.

NOTES

Josh Harrison went 2 for 4, with two of the Pirates’ four hits. … Josh Bell went 1 for 2 with an RBI. … Dovydas Neverauskas pitched the ninth and gave up two hits but got out of the innings with a double play. … Elias Diaz made an error in his second straight game. He overthrew second base attempting to throw out Dee Gordon in the first inning.

  • Does anyone really still think Cole is a number one starter? I don’t.

    • I don’t, and I never did think that he was at that level. He has showed a few flashes of possibly becoming that, but nothing consistently long enough in my opinion. I think that the time has come to look to try to trade him while he is still held in high regard throughout mlb. He is not going to be worth what the Pirates are going to have to pay him through the arbitration process.

  • Not sure what can go wrong next. It’s becoming quite apparent Keith Law was right on Kuhl and his future is as a reliever. The next question is whether or not Glasnow is eventually a bullpen piece or finds his way as a starter.

    ,3 WAR between 2 of our future building blocks- Bell and Polanco.

    This rotation is certainly one you can dream about but it will wake you up with cold sweats.

    • It is far too early to reach any conclusions about Kuhl and Glasnow. They have not logged near enough time at the mlb level, and the time that they have logged, they have shown much potential, along with some concerns. That’s not out of the ordinary with young pitchers just up from AAA.

  • Hopefully Cole can pull himself together and put in some lights-out efforts before the trade deadline. If the Buccos could pry Kyle Tucker, Frances Martes and David Paulino from Houston for Cole, I’d do it. Considering what Chris Sale fetched, I think NH needs to seriously consider trading Cole now. This Pirates team isn’t going anywhere this year.

    I’m all for trading Cutch and Harrison also. Time to get the rebuild started.

    • MIKE367, I AGREE COMPLETELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! While I blame the reason for this sorry season on Kang and Marte, I do not think that Cole is ever going to become the dominant, number one starter–ala Kershaw, Arrieta–like we have been waiting for. I also think that there are many teams, in contention, who could use him, and more importantly, would be willing to overpay for him. I would at least put out feelers and see. I also would not be averse to entertaining the notion of trading Polanco. Let’s face it, he has not materialized into what he was advertised to be when he was in the minor leagues. He is not a good outfielder. The routes that he takes on balls are terrible. I just think that the Pirates, right now, have some players that other teams would still place a high value on. If Neal Huntington played his cards right, the return could be huge. I say at least make some inquiries.
      As far as Hurdle goes, I do not think that he is the problem. Jung-Ho Kang and Starling Marte ruined the 2017 season for the Pirates, their front office, and most importantly to me, the fan base. If those two players were in the lineup from the start, I believe that we would be having an entirely different conversation right now. You can’t blame Clint Hurdle for that.

      • Yep. If Marte and Kang didn’t eff up, it might be a different story all together, given the fact that the NL Central sucks this year.

    • I think Houston is 25 games over 500 they don’t have to trade to win the division they already have. Why give up what you are suggesting?

      • To ultimately win the World Series, and not just for 2017, but beyond.

      • If Houston has a weakness, it’s their starting pitching, and they are rumored to be after Cole. The Bucs don’t need to trade him. He’s locked up through 2019. Make Houston overpay if they want him bad enough.

  • At least we can lay to rest the idea that Cole will be traded this year.

  • Very good article. Thanks! I respect Cole for trying to figure out what the issue is. The Pirates really need him to be right. Tough to win w/o your two primary players in Cole and Cutch playing at a high level.

  • Those two losses and how they lost in Baltimore can ruin a season. As we see a result of tonight. Makes people give up.

  • For some reason Cole seems better when Stewart is catching. Does Stewart have different tendencies of how he calls a game with Cole pitching?

  • I am not a Hurdle basher or supporter but how common is it for a manager to be working on an an expiring contract? Obviously this isn’t college where recruiting is impacted. Of course he could have been extended and no announcement made due to the S#!+storm of bad publicity it might let loose right now.

    • There’s been rumors of retirement. I wonder if he has discussed that with NH and FC and maybe that’s the plan. Also, he has an option for next year.

    • Is Hurdle’s salary known? It’s always a consideration with the Pirates that money is a factor, a huge factor, and replacing the manager would/should be a big money investment. That’s why Tom Prince has been mentioned often as the next head honcho. Rookie with low cost.

  • Fire Hurdle!

    • piraterican21
      June 9, 2017 10:43 am

      Yeah yeah his the reason, the all stars have become no stars (Cutch, Watson, Cole), another a cheat, our best hitter a drunk, our young guns, BB guns. Is a miracle they are not the worse team by far.

  • This year and last hear Cole pitched compete games under 100 pitches and in both cases he slumped afterwards. Maybe he is best just being overpowering 6 inning guy. He would always go six and give up about 2 runs with 90 or more pitches.

    • SSDD. 2 games under .500 in April, 4 under .500 in May, and 2-4 so far in June, and the schedule gets tougher from here. Unless I am terribly mistaken, this team will be in the unloading mode over the next 2 months. Is it time to end the Clint Hurdle period and try to re-build for 2018?

      There have been some excellent times, but the team seems to have gotten away from CH in 2016 and 2017, or he has gotten away from them. Either way, it is not working, and his contract ends after 2017, unless the Pirates choose to exercise a one year option.

      That is not happening. Bring a new Manager in now and give him the opportunity to try to pull something together for the future.

      • Agreed. I like Hurdle but there seems to be a “sell-by” date on managers and Clint appears to have reached it. It was the same way for him in Colorado. This is a talented team that is simply not playing well right now. The underperformance of so many of their players eventually must come down to management. And, lets face it, they have had some rotten luck, too.

        We are lucky in that it’s still early enough for things to turn around.
        I just hope that Huntington doesn’t wait too much longer. I suppose the successor will be either Prince or Cora. I wish there was some way that they could get Bannister back from Texas.

        Oh, and one more thing: FIRE BRANSON!

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