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MLB wins, ERA leader Cole rounding into ace

PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole wasn't at his best Saturday afternoon at PNC Park. His fastball command was a little off, and his breaking pitches weren't biting quite like they usually do.

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No matter. Cole still battled through six innings and put together another shutdown outing and became the first Major League pitcher to record 10 wins as he led the Pirates to a 4-3 victory over the Phillies.

Cole improved to 10-2 on the year and lowered his ERA to 1.71, the lowest mark in the Majors. He has firmly established himself as an early candidate for the All-Star Game starting assignment, and even for the NL Cy Young Award.

But Cole is not getting too caught up in his statistics, particularly the number in his win column. It's a figure that pitchers care about, but also one they don't have a great deal of control over.

"I guess the way I look at it is that we've played really, really well as a unit out there every time I've stepped on the field. Whether that has to do with my performance, I'm not quite sure," Cole said after holding Philadelphia to two runs (one earned) on five hits over six innings. "I think that has to do with the mentality that we bring every time we come out."

Saturday's outing was another testament to Cole's evolution into a big league ace, and to his trust in catcher Chris Stewart.

Cole pitched without his best stuff, and he allowed the leadoff man to reach safely in each of his first four innings. Yet he allowed only one other hit on the day, didn't walk anybody and struck out seven batters.

"It's a matter of forcing them to put the ball in play," Stewart said. "When you don't have your best stuff is when you need to prevent runners from getting on easy with the walks and whatnot.

"It's a sign of how far he's come, the kind of pitcher he's turned into. It doesn't matter. He doesn't need his best stuff to win ballgames. He knows that, and he goes out there and gives us whatever he has that day. Whatever it is, it's going to be his best stuff, and we're going to roll with it."

Given a three-run lead after the second inning, Cole was able to pitch more aggressively within the strike zone. He wound up retiring 12 of the last 13 hitters he faced, including the final nine in a row.

"He was out there giving it everything he had, and it's fun to watch him compete," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He expects a lot of himself and demands a lot of himself."

And so far this season, the Pirates have gotten a lot out of Cole.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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