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Cole looks like Bucs' ace with 10 K's vs. Crew

Right-hander allows one run over seven strong against NL Central leaders
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates are playing their best baseball of the season, winning 10 of their last 12 games and bouncing back into the National League Central race. Their ace may be rounding back into form, too.

Before the Pirates' late-inning heroics stole the show in a 3-2 win over the Brewers on Wednesday night at PNC Park, right-hander Gerrit Cole put together one of his best starts of the season. He struck out a season-high 10 batters without a walk, holding Milwaukee to one run on six hits over seven innings.

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates are playing their best baseball of the season, winning 10 of their last 12 games and bouncing back into the National League Central race. Their ace may be rounding back into form, too.

Before the Pirates' late-inning heroics stole the show in a 3-2 win over the Brewers on Wednesday night at PNC Park, right-hander Gerrit Cole put together one of his best starts of the season. He struck out a season-high 10 batters without a walk, holding Milwaukee to one run on six hits over seven innings.

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The Brewers only managed one extra-base hit off Cole: Domingo Santana's leadoff double in the first inning. Santana came around to score after Francisco Cervelli's throwing error and a single by Jesus Aguilar. That was all Cole would allow on the night.

"We were just able to execute pitches through each batter and pitch around some singles," Cole said. "That was good. 'Cervy' had a good game plan, kept them off-balance."

Six of Cole's last seven outings, including Wednesday night's performance, have been quality starts. Exclude his 5 1/3-inning, seven-run start against the Giants on June 13, and he is 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA since June 13.

Cole used his full arsenal against the Brewers but he leaned most on his fastball. Of his 103 pitches -- 72 of which were strikes -- 63 were fastballs. He got 14 called strikes with his four-seamer, which averaged 95.8 mph on the night, including five called third strikes. He also threw 21 sliders, 14 curveballs and five changeups to throttle the Brewers, who have scored only three runs in 21 innings against Cole this season and seven runs in the first three games of this series.

"Electric, for me," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Firm velocity. He hit his spots. Aggressive. Went after people. This team's dangerous from top to bottom. If you can get them swinging, you can work it to your advantage. He threw so many strikes that they had to get ready to hit, then he was able to hit his spots on top of it."

It took Cole 21 pitches to get through the first inning, but he settled down after that. He needed 21 pitches to finish the fourth and 17 to get through the fifth, but he threw no more than 12 pitches in any other inning.

"I had more in the tank," Cole said. "I was feeling strong. Definitely had some left."

Cole's name will be thrown around with great frequency as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, but his performance on Wednesday and the Pirates' play of late are two of the strongest arguments that he should remain in Pittsburgh.

Now only one game below .500 and four games behind the division-leading Brewers, the Bucs could contend down the stretch this season. Even if they fall out of the running, they seem set to contend next year if most of their core returns. That includes Cole, who is under club control through 2019.

The Pirates have overcome a number of obstacles to reach this point in the season. So has Cole, who endured an inexplicably challenging four-start stretch that still inflates his 4.18 ERA. This year may seem like it's been a roller coaster for Cole and the Pirates. Cole sees it differently.

"I was thinking more of a slow incline, to be honest," Cole said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole