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Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Entering into the final weeks of the 2015 regular season, pitcher Gerrit Cole has emerged as the Pirates’ ace.




PHOTOS BY DAVE ARRIGO/PITTSBURGH PIRATES

 

Adaptability is vital for a big-league pitcher. Changing situations on the basepaths, unfamiliar batters at the plate, late-season pressures — any number of factors can contribute to make the last few innings of a vital September contest different than the tranquil calm of April.

So Gerrit Cole knows how to be adaptable. Good thing, too — because this year, he has pitched so well that it screwed up his plan for a wedding proposal.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher planned to propose to girlfriend Amy Crawford, a former softball player at UCLA, over the July All-Star break. Then Cole was named to the National League All-Star team.
 


“When we got word that I made it, I had to do a little bit of an audible,” says Cole, 24. Crawford said yes. “It was fantastic,” Cole adds.

See? Adaptable.

When Cole joined the Pirates in June 2013, he was a highly regarded prospect with the potential to be a long-term fixture in the team’s rotation. Two years later, he’s not only the workhorse ace of the staff, but he’s also among the most effective hurlers in the league. As of Aug. 10, he led the National League with 14 wins; his 2.39 ERA ranked fourth among N.L. pitchers.

Those numbers paved the way for Cole’s first All-Star appearance, in which he threw a scoreless third inning, allowing no hits and striking out Los Angeles Angels slugger Mike Trout in the process. “It was really cool to be voted in by the players,” Cole says. He was selected not via the public round of voting — fans only vote for position players — but by his peers as a worthy member of the squad. “That carries a little [honor] in and of itself, if the people you’re competing against think that you should be there. That’s really special.”

If there’s any concern about Cole’s stellar 2015 season, it may be that he’s doing too well. His effectiveness also has put him among league leaders in innings pitched — 143.1 as of Aug. 10. That’s already a career high, with plenty of baseball yet to play.
 


“For the most part, [I’m] feeling good,” he says of the heavy workload. “But it’s the dog days, for sure. Everybody on the team feels it, and everybody on the other side of the field feels it as well. This is what separates teams.”

Pirates alum and color commentator Steve Blass — also a workhorse in his day, including a 1972 campaign in which he fooled batters for 249 innings — isn’t concerned about the young star. “I think he’s just a stud,” Blass says. “I think the harder you ride him, the more he’ll like it.”

“I love him because he is obsessed,” Blass adds. “He wants to find out how good he can be; not everybody has that ... He’s so emotional, he wants it so badly that he [sometimes] gets out in front, gets out of his rhythms, his flow, all that kind of stuff. But I never want to take that away from him — I want him to be angry out there.

“He’s still young; it’s just a matter of harnessing it. And he will. Controlled aggression, that’s what you want.”
 


As the regular season enters its final month, Cole is tasked with captaining the ship amid a tight playoff race; the phenomenal St. Louis Cardinals have made it nearly impossible for the Bucs to keep pace all year, likely leaving them to once again battle for one of two spots in the sudden-death Wild Card game — a game that Cole could end up starting.

When it comes to the standings, though, the 24-year-old has the pragmatism of a veteran.

“You pay attention to the standings by taking care of your own business,” he says. “We’re really good self-evaluators; we’re not going to compare ourselves to other teams.”

“And we haven’t played our best baseball yet,” he adds. It’s a tantalizing thought for Pirates fans; Cole says he is certain of it. “We haven’t. We’re getting closer.”  
 

 

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