Cole takes tough loss after quality start

Righty fans 10 and gives up 4 runs (1 earned) over 6 innings

March 30th, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- The strikeouts were coming fast and furious for . The wins will have to wait.

Cole, who led the Major Leagues in strikeouts per nine innings last year, whiffed the first five Rays batters he faced on Friday night, finishing with 10 punchouts -- and no walks -- in six innings in the Astros’ 4-2 loss at Tropicana Field.

“They put some good swings on some good pitches and they found some holes,” Cole said. “It got a bit challenging there and I wasn’t able to put my foot down.”

The only inning Cole didn’t strike out a batter was the third, when the Rays took advantage of a throwing error by shortstop Aledmys Diaz -- filling in for the injured Carlos Correa -- to score three unearned runs to take a 3-2 lead.

“He had a little bit of a hard-luck loss tonight,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I thought he pitched fine. He threw some really good pitches. They did a good job of getting some two-strike hits with two outs after we gave them an extra out. He battled, he did everything he could. We had a couple of different situations that put him in a tougher spot than he needed to be in, but that’s part of the game.”

Cole, who was effective with all four pitches, was unblemished outside the third, except for Yandy Diaz’s laser homer to lead off the sixth inning. Cole said it was as if it was shot out of a cannon. It will go down as a quality start for Cole, but probably one that will bring him more frustration than anything.

“I had all four pretty much going, but I just wasn’t able to stop the bleeding there in the third,” he said.

Cole, facing off against former Astros teammate and friend Charlie Morton, reached double-digit strikeouts in eight of his 32 starts last year --- with five of those coming in his first seven starts -- en route to a career-high 276 strikeouts. He averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which set a single-season franchise record and was the third-best mark by an AL pitcher behind Pedro Martinez (13.2 in 1999) and Chris Sale in 2017 (12.93).

“He was really explosive,” Hinch said. “He’s got some of the best stuff in the league. He’s been working on not having any bad reps and tonight he was really good. It’s unfortunate for him. It looks a little bit worse the way the game played out. We could have done a little bit better behind him. He’s going to throw the ball like he’s going to get a lot of wins and a lot of strikeouts.”

On Friday, Cole struck out Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham to start the first, before plowing through Diaz, Avisail Garcia and Daniel Robertson in the second. He struck out two in the fourth and fifth innings and ended with a strikeout of Kevin Kiermaier on his 101st pitch.

“I was kind of at the end of my rope there,” Cole said. “I felt strong for the whole outing. I thought the offspeed and location and quality stayed consistent. I challenged Diaz with a fastball in the sixth and lost that one, but that’s a 2-0 challenge almost every time.”