Gerrit Cole's Outstanding MLB Debut a Sign of Things to Come for Pirates

Ethan GrantAnalyst IJune 12, 2013

Jun 11, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fans react after Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) departs the game against the San Francisco Giants during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Gerrit Cole had a 14-10 record and a 2.84 ERA during his time in the minor leagues. The No. 1 pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2011 MLB Rule 4 Draft, Cole got off to a good start in his major league career on Tuesday night—he was the winning pitcher for the Pirates in a victory over the defending champion San Francisco Giants

Cole's career MLB record now sits at 1-0 with a—wouldn't you know it—2.84 ERA, and his encouraging debut at the highest level of baseball is a great sign for the Pirates as they chase St. Louis in the National League Central. 

The 22-year-old, who played his college ball at UCLA, went 6.1 innings on Tuesday night against San Francisco, giving up seven hits and two earned runs, striking out two and throwing 81 pitches in Pittsburgh's 8-2 win. 

It couldn't have gone over better for the 11th No. 1 pick currently active in the majors. 

Cole helped himself at the plate, too, going 1-of-3 in his debut with a single in his first career at-bat. The single plated two runs, the Pirates would add three more in the next four innings and that would be all Cole needed to win his major league debut against one of the best franchises in baseball. 

He made history at the plate in a bigger way than he did on the mound (via ESPN's Stats & Info):

Oh, and Tim Lincecum was on the mound in the other half-innings. 

Out-dueling the former two-time Cy Young winner, Cole proved that his fastball command, pitch selection and ability to challenge major league hitters were no joke at the minor league level. 

As Danny Knobler of CBS Sports pondered in this article on Monday, there were still questions surrounding Cole's ability to come in and get outs in the big leagues when the Pirates were ready to bring him to the club. 

One scout talked to Knobler about Cole's place in a major league rotation, and the reviews couldn't be more consistent with what we saw on Tuesday night from a young man who can help the Pirates make up the four games they lack behind the Cardinals in the NL Central:

Pretty darned impressive...He was 94-98 [mph] in the first inning, and 97 in the eighth. He was 88 with his slider, and it had a big, power feel to it. And he worked faster than most minor-league pitchers. He really profiles as a power right-handed arm. He looks very much like a top-of-the-rotation starter at the major-league level.

All of those characteristics were on display against San Francisco. 

It started in the first inning, when Cole struck out Gregor Blanco to earn his first career K and give the PNC Park faithful something to cheer about very early on against another NL contender. 

Through four innings, one thing Jerry Crasnick was high on was Cole's fastball command. Here's a look at his stats as the Pirates held San Francisco scoreless through four:

The fourth inning was in the middle of Cole's most impressive streak of the game. 

Starting with the last out of the second inning, Cole would go on to retire 13 straight hitters, including the heart of the order (Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt) twice. Even the Giants Twitter account was impressed by the feat:

Cole finally got in trouble in the seventh, as the Giants mounted a charge that include a couple of singles and a double that helped San Francisco finally get on the board. 

His day was done after the first run scored, and an inherited run also went to his ledger. But if the Pirates are going to get quality starts from this young man on a regular basis, they are going to be a tough team to beat in the National League in the second half of the season. 

The Pirates already have one of baseball's best ERAs at 3.24. Adding Cole to the mix gives the franchise another young arm who will no doubt go through some struggles, but also has the stuff to compete and get outs in each of his starts. 

Tuesday night was just the start for the Pirates. This is no longer a franchise suited to the bottom of the NL—it's one ready to start staking claim to the top of its division and in the playoffs, too. Last season's second-half collapse has given way to the theory that the time is now, and that the "baseball window" can be a very fickle thing. 

Cole helps the Pirates get better now, and in the future. He'll have growing pains, but Tuesday night was a good indication that he already has the makeup and the moxie to help this Pirates team compete when he's on the hill. 

Who knows, maybe Cole's success will pave the way for another youngster—Jameson Taillon—to crack the 25-man roster. 

Then, all bets are off for this suddenly burgeoning-with-talent Pirates team.