Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole is heading into uncharted territory, and not in a good way.
Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks left Cole winless in four starts this month.
It ties the longest stretch without a victory in Cole’s still-young career, and it’s just the second time he has absorbed three defeats in a row.
Although the Diamondbacks scored in three of the first four innings, Cole (14-7) did not crumble. He pitched 6 2⁄3 innings and allowed four runs and nine hits. He was more a victim of poor offensive support than a bad pitching performance.
The Pirates had three hits while Cole was in the game. Their only run came on Pedro Alvarez’s towering homer in the fifth inning.
The loss ended the Pirates’ four-game winning streak.
The 357-foot blast seemed to travel as high as it did far and landed in the first row of seats in right field. It was the 1,000th home run hit by a Pirates batter over 15 seasons at PNC Park.
The Pirates loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but Gregory Polanco struck out, and Starling Marte fouled out. Alvarez struck out swinging with two aboard to end the eighth.
“We kept pushing back, but we weren’t able to crack it open,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Cole has been stuck on 14 wins since July 26, when he overpowered the Washington Nationals. In his four August starts, he has a 4.69 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. He is scheduled to pitch again Saturday against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.
Diamondbacks right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (9-8) snapped a string of six road starts without a victory since May 30.
It took Cole 30 pitches to get through the first inning as the Diamondbacks built a 2-0 lead.
“Missed location early,” Cole said. “They’re an aggressive-swinging team. If you don’t locate the ball early, they’re going to punish you.”
A.J. Pollock, who quietly is putting together a breakout season, lined a fly ball high off the Clemente Wall. Right fielder Polanco misjudged the carom, and by the time he tracked down the ball, Pollock had a triple.
Cole cleared a big hurdle by striking out Paul Goldschmidt for the second out. But David Peralta ripped a double to right. Welington Castillo followed with an RBI single.
“I can’t put my finger on (why it happened),” Cole said. “The best I can do is to try to keep moving forward as the game progresses. At least tonight I got deep into the game, almost a solid seven. That, at least, was encouraging. Hellickson did a nice job keeping us contained. It just didn’t go our way.”
It was the seventh time in 24 starts this season that Cole allowed a first-inning run. The previous time it happened was June 24, when the Cincinnati Reds got four runs off him in the opening frame.
The Pirates seemed geared up for fastballs in the first inning, and Hellickson kept them out of sync with offspeed pitches. Marte bounced a one-out double into the seats, but Andrew McCutchen whiffed on a changeup, and Aramis Ramirez struck out swinging at a junk curveball.
Chris Owings began the second by whipping a 93 mph fastball from Cole into the gap in left-center for a double. Owings went to third base on Nick Ahmed’s flyout.
With the infield pulled in and Hellickson at the plate, Cole threw a 2-2 slider out of the zone. Hellickson flared it over the head of second baseman Neil Walker for an RBI single.
Cole fumed as he watched Hellickson’s looper find pay dirt.
“A perfect slider in the perfect spot, but …” Cole said.
Cole felt even worse in the fourth, when rookie Jake Lamb made it 4-0.
Lamb sent a fastball into the first row of seats in right-center field for his fifth home run of the season. Lamb paused at second base, thinking a fan had snagged the ball below the top of the outfield wall, but a replay review confirmed the homer.