WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ever since the Astros pulled off a January trade that sent four players to the Pirates for pitcher Gerrit Cole, the right-hander hasn't stopped smiling.To go from a Pittsburgh team that finished fourth in its division to the World Series champions would be reason enough
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ever since the Astros pulled off a January trade that sent four players to the Pirates for pitcher Gerrit Cole, the right-hander hasn't stopped smiling.
To go from a Pittsburgh team that finished fourth in its division to the World Series champions would be reason enough to feel uplifted, but Cole is having perhaps the best spring of his career for an organization that refuses to rest on its laurels.
Cole's agent, Scott Boras, who was in West Palm Beach on Monday for the official announcement of the signing of another client, Jose Altuve, said that he recently had lunch with Cole. Boras said that perhaps one other day brought as much joy to Cole as the trade.
"Maybe other than his wedding day," Boras said. "He was smiling all day."
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A would-be ace on many of the pitching staffs around the Major Leagues, Cole finds himself nestled in at fourth in the Astros' starting rotation behind American League Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander (2011) and Dallas Keuchel ('15) and '17 postseason hero Lance McCullers
"It's really cool, lot of stuff to learn and making some new friends," said Cole, who won 19 games for the Bucs in 2015, his lone All-Star season. "It's just impressive to be around guys with such accolades. It's a really cool opportunity."
Cole was stretched out to five innings on Sunday and said he felt good about the outing despite allowing three runs on seven hits.
"It was a nice day, got a little lather," Cole said. "Had to back up some bases, which isn't ideal, but hey, it helps conditioning a little bit."
In five Grapefruit League starts this spring, Cole is 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 18 in 17 2/3 innings.
"I feel great. I feel strong," he said.
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That's good news after coming off a 12-12 season with the Pirates last year that included a career-high 4.26 ERA in a career-high 33 starts. But Cole said he believes 2017 was an anomaly.
"It boils down to one or two pitches in those games," he said. "There's really nothing to address other than to understand that every pitch is important and sometimes things just don't go your way.
"There was way too much good work last year to really sit down and say, 'Man I really need to make some adjustments.' There's some fine-tuning aspects, like why did this guy hit this pitch and why wasn't I able to see where the right pitch was and I threw the wrong pitch. That comes with preparation and catchers being on the same page with pitchers."
Cole said he believes a fresh perspective with the Astros has been and will continue to be a big help in that regard.
"[Having] fresh eyes is good, and understanding how and why I got beat in those situations. You just kind of store that in the bank; it's in the past, so you just try to get better from it," Cole said.
With one more spring start left, Cole said he feels as good as he ever has in Spring Training.
"I feel like I've settled in," he said.
Verlander has stellar outing
Making his sixth start of the spring in Monday's 2-0 win over the Mets, Astros starter Justin Verlander looked ready for his Opening Day assignment.
The right-hander threw seven crisp innings, giving up only five singles. He didn't put more than one runner on base in any inning, and only one baserunner reached second.
"I was around the zone a lot, my offspeed stuff probably wasn't as sharp as it's been this spring today," Verlander said. "But I was still able to make some good pitches, quality pitches when I needed to. If anything, I might have been around the zone too much, but overall, it was a good day. It's time to kind of start turning the switch on preparing to pitch in real, meaningful games. I treated today more like a real game."
Verlander struck out three and walked only one. He threw 88 pitches, 64 for strikes.
"It was important to get his pitch count up a little bit. We'll back off a little bit [in] the next outing," Hinch said. "Typical Verlander outing, where he's very focused. He had a good day."
Verlander reached a top speed of 96 mph on his fastball, hitting that mark on three occasions in the seventh inning.
"That's kind of the way I pitch, and yeah, I took this opportunity to get my arm going a bit," Verlander said. "It's time to start trying to get it going."
Verlander has completed at least five innings in each of his last three starts and has now recorded 24 strikeouts against only two walks over 22 innings along with a 1.64 ERA.
Correa goes yard
Carlos Correa hit his first home run of the spring on Monday. The Astros' shortstop lined an offspeed pitch from Mets starter Steven Matz over the left-field fence in the second inning, a solo blast, for the first run of the game.
Correa, who hit a career-high 24 homers in the regular season last year, did not hit a homer during the 2017 Grapefruit League season. His last Spring Training homer came on March 27, 2016, in an exhibition game against San Diego in Mexico City.
The Astros have an off-day on Tuesday and return to action on Wednesday, when they'll face Washington as the visiting team in at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at 1:05 p.m. ET. McCullers will make his fourth start and fifth appearance this spring for the Astros. Watch the game on MLB.TV.
Glenn Sattell is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Astros on Monday.