It's Father's Day and the Pirates are halfway to 82 wins. They got their 41st win today when Zack Greinke left a 3-2 curveball up in the middle of the zone and Pedro Alvarez whacked it out into the bushes in center field, breaking a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth. Gerrit Cole ran into trouble in the sixth and gave the Dodgers a run back, but Alex Presley immediately leveled that out with a solo homer in the sixth. Justin Wilson worked out of the jam Cole left in the sixth, then pitched an easy seventh before Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli closed down the eighth and ninth for the win.
Of course, Cole's the big story in this game and he probably will be every single time he takes the mound this year. If you, like me, expected to see Cole throw some more breaking balls and changeups today, you were probably a little frustrated with his performance this afternoon. Cole threw 80 pitches today and somewhere between 67 and 69 of them were four-seam fastballs. His velocity was incredible again (those four-seamers averaged 97 mph) and the control was quite good with just about two of every three fastballs crossing the plate for a strike. He had trouble getting his breaking ball (it looked like it was the same pitch that he called a curve after his first start on Tuesday, though it gets classified as a slider by the Gameday software) across the plate and so didn't use it all that often. He only threw it nine times total on Sunday.
Much like his debut start against the Giants, he jammed a lot of hitters, broke some bats, induced a ton of weak contact, found himself dealing with base runners fairly often, and couldn't pitch deep into the game because after seeing his fastball for 5+ innings the Dodgers started making solid contact.
I thought one at-bat was particularly illustrative of the troubles that are going to plague Cole until he starts relying on his secondary pitches and generating strikeouts. It came in the top of the second with Tim Federowicz at the plate, Yaisal Puig on third base, and one out. With a 2-0 lead, Cole needed a strikeout of Federowicz. He should've been able to get one; Federowicz is basically a Quad-A catcher that had 19 strikeouts in 59 plate appeparances coming into the game today. After throwing a breaking ball for ball one, Cole came back with two fastballs at 97 and 96. Federowicz took the first one and fouled the second one off. Cole threw two more curves out of the zone to run the count full, then Federowicz bounced a fastball to Jordy Mercer for a run-scoring groundout. Cole couldn't throw the curve for a strike, which caused the count to go full and left him without the confidence to throw it in a full count situation. As a result, he didn't get the strikeout he needed and the run scored.
I don't mean this to be a serious criticism of Cole at this point; he's only in his second big league start, he's only a few weeks removed from a disastrous Triple-A start, and he's been pretty effective against both the Giants and Dodgers with basically only one pitch working for him. The Pirates probably would have preferred to keep him in Triple-A for another month or so until he felt comfortable with his breaking ball, but he's close enough to ready and their pitching situation is dire enough that there's no other option. Whenever a pitcher pitches well with a low strikeout total, though, the conversation inevitably turns to why a pitcher needs strikeouts. At-bats like that Federowicz at-bat are why. Innings like the fourth inning, where the Dodgers made no solid contact but ended up with three hits and a run, are why.
Of course, those are concerns for the next Gerrit Cole start. Through two starts, he's pounded the strike zone with a blazing fastball that's been difficult for opponents to hit solidly. His great control (he still hasn't walked a hitter) has minimized the damage done by hits that he has given up, which have been mostly soft singles. He's started twice and given the Pirates a chance to win twice. He needs to find more confidence in his off-speed stuff because teams are eventually going to start sitting on that fastball, but that fastball certainly is a nice crutch to have until he gets there.