PITTSBURGH -- Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole narrowly avoided a devastating injury during the sixth inning of Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Tigers at PNC Park, taking a glancing blow off the top of his head on a comebacker.
With the Pirates trailing, 2-0, Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann led off the sixth with a line drive hit directly back at Cole. Coming off Zimmermann's bat at 105 mph, according to Statcast™, the ball grazed the top of Cole's head on its way into center field and knocked off his camouflage hat.
"Luckily I was able to get out of the way, for the most part," Cole said. "It didn't get me that good. ... I hit the deck pretty hard. I was just trying to get out of the way."
Uninjured, Cole sat on the mound for a moment as athletic trainer Ben Potenziano and manager Clint Hurdle rushed to the mound and PNC Park went quiet. Cole quickly stood up and threw a few warmup pitches before the game resumed. He left the game for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.
"You catch your breath," Hurdle said. "A guy goes down like that, that's an absolute yard sale and you don't know what happened. ... Gerrit was perfectly coherent, answered every question, looked us in the eyes."
It wasn't Cole's first close call. A line drive struck him in the face in 2012, when he was pitching for Double-A Altoona, but he suffered no serious injuries.
Aside from the brief scare, Cole was pleased with his second start of the season. Admittedly rusty in his debut, Cole was efficient Thursday and only ran into trouble in the fourth inning, when the Tigers capitalized on a mistake to score two runs.
With two outs, Cole tried to pick off Tigers outfielder Justin Upton at first base. But when Cole turned and fired, first baseman John Jaso was several steps away, playing behind Upton with a full count on J.D. Martinez.
Cole, Jaso and Hurdle chalked up the errant throw to a lack of communication.
"I probably could have avoided that whole situation. It was kind of a last-second thing," Jaso said. "That was probably the first time I ever really encountered that moment. I don't think it was anybody's fault. It was one of those things that just happens. I learned from it and I can see how I can avoid that situation happening again in the future."
Cole then walked Martinez, and Nick Castellanos launched a two-run double to center field.
"I didn't think [the pickoff throw] affected the next at-bat," Cole said. "That happens."
Cole retired the Tigers in order in the fifth, then Zimmermann led off the sixth with the line-drive single back at Cole, who deflected the ball into center field.
Cole immediately induced a double play, gave up a single and then recorded the third out to end the inning -- fortunately unharmed, in several ways.