Pirates’ Cole lasts only 4 innings, loses to Nationals in return from disabled list
WASHINGTON — Gerrit Cole brought his good curveball. He brought a 96 mph fastball. He brought some self-directed anger, too.
It wasn’t enough.
In his first game back after a five-week stay on the disabled list, Cole encountered turbulence in almost every inning. The Washington Nationals chased Cole after just four innings and beat the Pirates, 6-0.
Cole (5-5) had been out since June 10 to nurse to a sore right triceps. Without him, the rotation has been adrift — when the Pirates won recently, it was often because of comebacks that overcame shaky efforts by the starting pitchers.
The Pirates need Cole to be a slump-buster, a dominator and a leader. And they need it all right away.
“He needs to get here and help us,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He needs to get involved in the fight with us.”
Cole needed a whopping 80 pitches merely to get 12 outs. He yielded five runs (four earned) and seven hits, walked two and struck out five.
“I felt good physically, so that’s a positive,” Cole said. “But not a great evening. I didn’t make enough quality pitches. If I made one quality pitch, I’d follow it with one that was subpar. I got crushed out of the stretch.”
The last time Cole won a game was May 20, a strange outing in which he gave up 10 hits but just one run against the Colorado Rockies.
The Pirates, meanwhile, scuffled against Tanner Roark (9-5). Aided by two double plays, the right-hander rolled up six 1-2-3 innings.
Roark, who ranks fourth in the National League in innings pitched, worked eight innings, gave up five hits, walked one and struck out five.
“We got some balls to hit but didn’t hit ’em,” Hurdle said. “We haven’t squared balls up.”
Cole was all systems go in the first inning against leadoff batter Ben Revere, who struck out looking. Then things got a little messy.
Jayson Werth walked and stole second. Bryce Harper singled to left, but Werth stopped at third base rather than test left fielder Starling Marte’s arm.
Anthony Rendon dropped a single into left-center to score Werth. Harper, ever brash, tried for third. Marte scooped the ball and came up throwing.
Harper was out, and it wasn’t close.
With Rendon at second base, Clint Robinson mashed a fly ball toward the gap in right-center. Andrew McCutchen had no chance.
Sean Rodriguez, who started in place of injured right fielder Gregory Polanco, drew a bead on the ball and didn’t give up. Running full-tilt, Rodriguez lunged toward the wall and made a tumbling catch.
“You always have to run after the ball thinking you can get to it,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully, you do and you’re able to make a play. I was able to.”
According to Statcast, Rodriguez ranged 105 feet with 98 percent route efficiency to make the play. That’s Gold Glove-caliber stuff.
It took 24 pitches and two spectacular plays in the outfield, but Cole escaped with just a 1-0 deficit.
In the second, back-to-back doubles by Stephen Drew and Danny Espinosa gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
Cole stomped on the mound and seemed peeved at himself after Espinosa’s hit.
With Espinosa at third and one out, Cole struck out Roark and whiffed Revere with a tight, nasty curveball.
That chip was still on Cole’s shoulder at the start of the third.
He blew fastballs past Werth and Harper to run his strikeout streak to four.
“I liked the competitive nature, the rhythm and the pace,” Hurdle said. “But the inning got away from us in the fourth.”
Robinson singled and went to third on Drew’s one-out double. Cole intentionally walked Espinosa to face Roark. A 3-2 fastball was down and away, and Roark chopped it into the hole on the right side.
Second baseman Josh Harrison snagged it, but his off-balance throw went into the Nationals’ dugout. One run scored on Roark’s single and another on Harrison’s error.
“It was do or die,” Harrison said. “If I make an accurate throw, we get an out. I ranged and spun and … sometimes we throw it on line, sometimes we don’t. I was trying to make an aggressive play.”
Revere hit a bouncer to shortstop Jordy Mercer, but Espinosa slid under catcher Eric Fryer’s tag to make it 5-0.