Gerrit Cole Showing Progress, Pirates Hope 100 MPH Ace Returns Quickly

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterJune 17, 2014

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, June 3, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

Now that we've dismissed the idea of pitch cost in the abstract, can we soon do the same with velocity cost? With the outbreak of arm surgeries, many, including some sharp knives like Jeff Passan of Yahoo, discussed how the hardest throwers appeared to be breaking down at an increased rate. Coincidence or correlation? Right now, we have to look toward the latter with yet another one of those hard throwers heading to the DL.

Gerrit Cole is actually the hardest of the hard throwers. He had the highest average velocity of starters last season, and with Justin Verlander struggling*, things certainly seem to point to the forces of throwing that hard causing issues. Except it's not a 1:1 relationship. There are more hard throwers than ever, and some of them don't come up injured. We just don't know for now.

Cole's shoulder is worrisome, but there's no structural damage in either the shoulder or the elbow. It amounts to something in between fatigue and dead arm, so rest should help, but the Pirates will certainly be ultraconservative with their ace. The team has been very conservative in the past, even with lesser pitchers. With Francisco Liriano out and the anticipated help from Jameson Taillon lost to Tommy John surgery, the Pirates can't hope to surge back into the NL Central race without an ace of any stripe.

That loss of Taillon is definitely something to keep in mind. The Pirates never overused him, and there were few concerns about his mechanics, but he broke down anyway. Cole isn't much older, and with the additional velocity, there's definitely concern. It's not "better" that Cole's current issue is in the shoulder. At least with Tommy John surgery, there's a high return rate.

Expect Cole to return normally, but to perhaps have a few more limitations on his workload initially. While he saw a significant increase in innings in his first full season, the Pirates were conservative with that in spite of the playoff run. We can only hope that's worked, even though there's no evidence that anything currently done is helping reduce pitching injuries.

For now, Cole is expected to come back at or near the minimum. He threw a 34-pitch bullpen this weekend, according to Travis Sawchik, and the next step is a sim game. While Cole could be back as soon as next weekend, it's more likely that he'll slot back into the rotation sometime next week.

* I've talked to several people and they can see nothing wrong with Verlander either physically or mechanically. This appears to be an extension of his velocity drop from last year. I compared it to late-Boston Roger Clemens and still think that comp holds. Even so, his slump is perhaps the biggest pitching mystery around right now, and it's sure to bring up a million theories.