FORT MYERS, Fla. — At times as a rookie last season, Gerrit Cole was a one-trick pitcher.
It was a quality trick — a fastball that averaged 96 mph — but Cole perhaps was overly dependent upon the pitch early on is his debut season. He struggled at times to get batters to swing and miss at his slider, which was regarded as his second-best pitch coming out of UCLA.
Cole excelled in September when he added velocity separation with a curveball, and Wednesday against the Twins, the right-hander showed he might be adding another effective offering to his pitch mix in 2014 with a refined slider.
Cole got Josh Willingham to swing and miss on a slider in the first inning and struck out the following batter, Oswaldo Arcia, with an 89 mph slider to end the frame. Willingham swung and missed at a 90 mph slider in the third for another strikeout.
Cole allowed one run, unearned, and three hits in three innings in the Pirates’ 8-4 win over the Twins. Cole said he was focused on throwing the slider as a chase pitch out of the zone.
“I threw some good ones to Willingham,” Cole said of the slider. “The slider shape was good. I was trying to play a little bit with the shape of the slider (Wednesday). I left it up a couple times. … I’m trying make myself make those adjustments that I was able to make later in the year last year.”
Cole described it as a luxury to possess two breaking pitches, with different shapes and speeds, in addition to his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and changeup. It’s possible a noticeably slimmer Cole could have a five-pitch mix in 2014.
“I was initially throwing (the slider) too hard (Wednesday), so I tried to take some off,” Cole said. “I was just trying to throw quality pitches. If I didn’t like a pitch, I repeated and tried to make it better.
“At the same time, it’s not about breaking balls in spring training, it’s about fastballs.”
And Cole’s fastball velocity was present at Hammond Stadium.
Cole struck out Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett with a 98 mph fastball to end the second. Cole touched 98 mph several times and sat between 94-97 mph with the pitch.
Cole was not satisfied with his fastball command, which for most pitchers is the focus of spring training. He walked Twins star Joe Mauer with two outs in the third, which eliminated Cole’s chance of pitching into the fourth inning for the first time this spring. Cole threw 59 pitches.
“The two-out walk to Mauer sucks,” Cole said.
Cole had not pitched in a regular spring training game since Feb. 28 when he allowed two runs on three hits in two innings against the Blue Jays. Cole pitched in a “B” game last week against the Twins at Pirate City and allowed a wind-aided home run in three innings of work.
“(Wednesday) was a step forward from last time,” Cole said. “There were some good parts about it, but there are still things that need to be cleaned up. Lot of fastballs (Wednesday). I think it’s important to keep throwing fastballs to build up arm strength and get your delivery in check.”
What is Pirates manager Clint Hurdle most excited about to see from Cole in 2014?
“A full season,” Hurdle said. “That’s a challenge. Sometimes, that gets pushed to the side. People want to see bigger, better, stronger. If he can compete and go out there for a full season, I think you’ll see a number of different things happen over the course of a season.”