Baseball has come easily to Gerrit Cole for his entire life.
He was such an overpowering high school pitcher in Orange County, Calif., that the New York Yankees made him their first-round draft pick in 2008. Cole turned down the Yankees, though, starred at UCLA and the Pirates then chose him first overall in the 2011 draft.
However, Cole’s once-promising season is spinning out of the control and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace is at a loss for ideas on how to make it stop.
Cole got hammered again Thursday night, giving up seven runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings of a 7-1 loss to the Florida Marlins in the opener of a four-game series at PNC Park.
Cole is 1-2 with a 10.73 ERA in his four last starts, giving up 23 runs and 39 hits in 19 1/3 innings. That is a far cry from the pitcher who ran off eight quality starts in a row just prior to this horrific stretch and he looks nothing like the guy who won 19 games in 2015.
It has reached the point where Cole is having a hard time even throwing back-to-back quality pitches.
“There have been spurts where the pitches have been crisp but you’ve got to make more than one quality pitch to each hitter,” Cole said. “You may throw a good one the first pitch, but you’ve got to continue to throw that consistency out there and that quality out there.
“It’s not happening. It’s not very good. I haven’t really gone through something like this before, but that’s the farthest thing from an excuse. I have to turn it around.”
If he doesn’t, the Pirates’ already slim chances of being contenders will lessen. At 26-34 and in last place in the National League Central, they are just 5 ½ games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers primarily through the grace in a bad division.
The Marlins jumped on Cole for three runs in the first inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Dietrich and Tyler Moore to start the fourth pushed the lead to 4-0 then it was death by paper cuts for Cole in the fifth as he was chased after five consecutive two-out singles produced three runs.
“He can make pitches at any time,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He has that kind of stuff. Our guys just kind of hung in there against right from the start, got his pitch count and he was obviously not as strong the third time through the order when we were able to really battle him.”
Cole seems incapable of battling back right now. He seems to have reached bottom.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen knows about hitting bottom. The five-time All-Star was benched for back-to-back games in Atlanta on May 22-23 when his batting average dropped to .200.
Since then, McCutchen has gone 16-for-46 (.348) in 13 games with three home runs to lift his average to .231.
“The main battle is the battle with yourself,” McCutchen said. “You battle things yourself personally. That’s the tough part, because physically, you feel good. You’re in a good spot. Your body is in a good spot. But when you go out there to do the job, it’s just not transferring to the game.
“It’s just remaining consistent with your thought process, with the way that you go about things, because you have to be consistent with everything. The more consistent you are, the better chances you have of getting where you need to be. The constant mental battle of change … a lot of times, that comes with the battle with yourself.”
It’s currently a one-sided battle for Cole and he is not on the right side.