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After just one game, there are no facts about what kind of pitcher he’ll end up being, but we can take indications, and we can comment on his pitches, approaches and his mound presence.
Cole’s stuff is absolutely unbelievable. A few years ago, we watched Stephen Strasburg tear apart the Pirates in his debut and everyone was blown away by his repertoire. Cole’s stuff is that good.
His fastball can touch 99 on the gun, his slider has some dive to it, his slurve has serious lateral movement and his changeup, which was seldom used, looks like it could be a great change-of-pace pitch, keeping the league's best fastball hitters off-balance.
Cole was also able to keep the ball down and pitch to contact without giving up a lot of line drives. His confidence for such a young pitcher is excellent and you can tell this guy trusts his stuff.
When looking at Cole’s numbers from Indy this season, his lack of strikeouts were surprising considering how great his stuff was advertised to be. Now we know why: he throws a ton of strikes, he pitches to contact, and tries to get quick outs.
Cole didn’t walk a single batter Tuesday night, although he did hit Gregor Blanco with a pitch. A young A.J. Burnett had equally great stuff early in his career, but struggled with walks (BB/9 numbers weren’t below four any of his first four seasons).
The fact that Cole showed the ability to pitch within the strike zone effectively is an indicator that he probably won’t struggle with walks.
It’s important to remember that Cole didn’t face a particularly great lineup yesterday. The Giants currently rank seventh in the National League in runs scored and 14th in the National League in long-balls, with only 47. That needs to be taken into account when quantifying Cole’s success last night and when looking at areas he needs to improve in.
First of all, his control in general has a lot of room to grow. His fastball is by far his best pitch and if it’s going to continue to be used at such a high rate, he’s going to have to shore up his command.
He didn't miss high with the heater too often, which is a great sign, but he can definitely become more precise with his location, especially when he gets deeper in counts against some of the league’s better hitters.
Cole’s slider and off-speed stuff weren’t highlighted in last night’s game and I assume that speaks to his lack of confidence in throwing them for strikes. As Cole faced the order for the second and third times last night, Russell Martin began calling for more breaking balls to keep the San Francisco bats uneasy.
I’m not sure that Cole is able to throw his slider, slurve or changeup consistently for strikes when he’s behind in the count, and that is something that he’ll need to do if he wants to fulfill his potential.
Cole didn’t look comfortable going inside to left-handed batters at times last night. Four of the seven hits that Cole gave up were to left-handed batters or switch-hitters. Cole’s last pitch of the game was the only one hit for extra bases and it was hit by the switch-hitting, pinch-hitting Tony Abreu.
That specific pitch was supposed to be down and in, but it ended up catching too much of the plate and it got hit hard. Also, Cole hit the left-handed Blanco with a fastball that was supposed to be on the inside corner.
Pirates’ pitchers this year have had great control on the inside corner and that includes guys like Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Locke, whose stuff is nowhere near as good as Cole’s.
If Cole can harness that inside corner, both with the fastball and with the diving slider, he’ll see more success against left-handed hitters. Inversely, if he doesn't, he may struggle against the better left-handed hitters in the National League.