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The Strike Zone

Cole as Ice: 2011's top pick shuts down defending champs in debut

Gerrit Cole's velocity was tremendous, but his control was even better on Tuesday night. [Keith Srakocic/AP]Gerrit Cole's velocity was tremendous, but his control was even more impressive on Tuesday night. [Keith Srakocic/AP]

Gerrit Cole struck out the first batter he faced in the major leagues on three pitches, all fastballs, finishing him off with a 99 mile per hour heater then stomping off the back of the mound. Cole, whom the Pirates made the top pick in the 2011 draft, only struck out one more man through his subsequent six innings of work, but that first at-bat set the tone for an impressive debut. The 22-year-old Cole worked quickly, pounded the strike zone with upper-90s fastballs, and didn't allow a run until his final batter of the night on Tuesday. Oh, and his two-run single off Tim Lincecum in the bottom of the second accounted for the only scoring in the game through the first four innings.

Cole's fastball sat around 96 to 97 throughout his 6 1/3 innings, and his fist time through the Giants' batting order, he threw just three breaking pitches and five balls, getting first-pitch strikes on seven of those first nine men. In his first two innings, he worked out of a couple of jams, stranding a pair of singles in the first and leaving the bases loaded in the second after two more singles, one another well-placed ground ball, and a hit batsman. After that, he was perfect for four innings, retiring 13 men in a row including the final out of the second.

When he came back out to start the seventh, Cole had thrown just 72 pitches, 52 of them (72 percent) strikes, but a pair of singles to start the inning and a one-out RBI double by pinch-hitter Tony Abreu chased him after his 81st pitch. His final line on the night was 6 1/3 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 0 walks, 2 strikeouts and the win in the Pirates' 8-2 victory. Cole's other strikeout was of defending National League MVP Buster Posey, who he got to chase a nasty slider in the dirt.

Speaking to the Pirates' broadcasters after being pulled from the game, Cole credited his quick, strike-heavy approach to catcher Russell Martin and better-than-usual control. Indeed, Cole's control was impeccable throughout the night. He threw just 22 pitches outside of the strike zone on the night and many of them missed by mere inches. Only two of his tosses were genuinely wild: the 97 MPH fastball that clipped Gregor Blanco's jersey for that second-inning HBP, and a changeup to Hunter Pence in the sixth that Cole yanked into the left-handed batter's box. Outside of a few first-pitch balls, he didn't fall behind a batter until he went 2-1 on Pence in that sixth-inning at-bat, and his only three-ball count of the night didn't come until the following batter, Brandon Belt, who wound up making the final out of the sixth inning. Both times he got an out on the next pitch.

Cole did get some help from his defense, of course. Not only did they play spotlessly behind him as 25 of the 27 men he faced put the ball in play, but they made a few spectacular plays as well. The best was this outstanding play by second baseman Neil Walker in the sixth on a Hunter Pence chopper up the middle that he fielded on the shortstop side of second base. Pedro Alvarez chipped in too on a ball hit right down the line by Joaquin Arias for the final out of the fourth.

Going forward, Cole is going to have do to more of the dirty work himself via strikeouts. In fact, of the criticisms of Cole summarized by Jay this morning (including a high walk rate and an overall lack of intensity), his lack of strikeouts was the only one that manifested itself in his big league debut.  With the combination of control and velocity that he showed on Tuesday night and that outstanding slider, he clearly has the stuff to make major league hitters look bad, but as effective and efficient as he was in his debut, he didn't do that very often.

Pirates fans will hope to see more of this in his next turn:

Cole will certainly be chasing that feeling as well. "I struck out Blanco on the first batter of the game," he told the Pirates broadcast, "and I really couldn't really feel my body after that. That was unbelievable."

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