Cole finds comfort as the Cy Young slayer
Ace will face fellow strikeout artist Verlander in Pirates-Tigers series opener
PITTSBURGH -- Back during Gerrit Cole's 2013 Major League infancy, before he'd established any discernible identity (aside from the celebrity of being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft), just to clue in the sort of pitcher they were talking about, some journalists referred to him as "Gerrit Verlander." You know, comfortably in the mid-90s and able to dial it up to triple digits when needed in the later innings.
That association was only reinforced early in Cole's rookie season when -- pumped to be on the Angel Stadium mound within a short drive of his Newport Beach, Calif., home -- he uncorked a 101-mph pitch, the fastest recorded since 2008 by a starting pitcher other than Justin Verlander.
So, for two years, the Pirates' Cole has been drawing virtual beads on the Tigers' Verlander.
On Tuesday night, Cole will catch Verlander. The two right-handed stars will duel at Comerica Park in the 7:08 p.m. ET opener of a three-game Interleague series.
Cole has worn his game face since the participation of Verlander, scratched from his prior start with a stiff back, was confirmed during the Bucs' Sunday afternoon game at PNC Park.
"We got Cole on the mound, and I'm sure they're excited about Verlander," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, in response to whether he was already looking forward to the seminal matchup. "We're pretty excited when we get to play any Major League Baseball game.
"There's a lot of aces in the league, and it's fun to watch when we're a part of [such a duel]. We've had a few of them."
Cole has actually had most of them, and he has wasted little time establishing himself as a big-game, big-name pitcher. He won his first two big league games over 2009 Cy Young Award winners Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke, and later in that rookie half-season, he also decisioned two Cy Young runners-up, the Angels' Jered Weaver and the Rangers' Yu Darvish.
Now this Cy slayer will try to take down 2011 winner Verlander and provide some hand-to-hand evidence that he has supplanted him as baseball's top power righty. While Cole continues to average nearly 97 mph on his money pitch, the four-seam fastball, and leads the Majors with 11 wins, Verlander has made only two starts in a season delayed by injury.
Like Verlander in his prime, however, Cole is about more than just power. He uses his breaking pitches, the slider far more prominently than the curve, to put batters on the defensive. Also, as his pitching doppelganger -- lifetime, Verlander has held batters to a .226 average with two outs and runners in scoring position -- Cole can put both his foot and heart rate down in clutch situations.
"He has incrementally gotten better as each season has gone along," Hurdle said. "And the one thing he has shown this year is that when he's challenged, his first reaction hasn't been to be faster or quicker -- not with his pitches, but with his mentality."