Gerrit Cole landed on the disabled list three times in 2016. An elbow ligament injury ultimately ended his season after he tried pitching through the pain. He opted for rest over offseason surgery. When Cole did toe the rubber, the results were disappointing with the right-hander registering career-worst numbers across the board: 3.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9. His average fastball velocity (95.2 mph) was close to his career mark (95.4 mph), but the pinpoint accuracy was lacking. Cole is a rebound candidate -- he's one season removed from 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 1-09 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 208 IP -- but he also carries more risk than other starters in his tier.
Cole gave up one run in five innings Sunday, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out five. He's only made two official appearances this spring but threw three shutout innings against the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic squad. Perhaps more importantly, Cole appears healthy after three trips to the disabled list in 2016. He touched 97 mph during his Sunday outing and will start for the Bucs in Boston on April 3 in the season opener.
Cole threw three scoreless innings on two hits and no walks Wednesday against the Dominican Republic. He didn't record a strikeout, DK Pittsburgh Sports reports. "I felt strong," Cole said. "I tried to just keep getting as many reps with the fastball as I can, just continue to build strength." Cole used his slider for the first time this spring but was more pleased with the rest of his repertoire. "I thought the changeup had good action today as well as the curveball," he relayed. "I hit both sides of the plate well. I changed height on the fastball well. It was good." Coach Mike Lavalliere recently said Cole potentially offers the best changeup among all Pirates pitchers. An effective off-speed pitch could work wonders for Cole, who throws hard across the board aside from the curve (which he uses only 10 percent of the time).
Cole gave up two hits and a walk in two scoreless innings Friday. He failed to record a strikeout. He let the first two batters he faced reach base but then compelled Manny Machado to ground into a double play. Cole didn't have his best stuff Friday but the outing was encouraging, given his 2016 season was cut short by an elbow injury.
Cole has officially been named the Pirates' Opening Day starter, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. It will be the first career Opening Day start for Cole, who will take the mound on April 3 against the Red Sox. The 26-year-old struggled with injuries last season and he'll look to rediscover his 2015 form, which saw him win 19 games while posting a 2.60 ERA.
Cole will throw two innings in a simulated game on Sunday, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. Cole dealt with bouts of elbow inflammation last season and has been cautiously eased into spring training activity. After finishing fourth in Cy Young voting in 2015, he recorded a career-worst 3.88 ERA last season and was shut down in September. Nonetheless, if all goes well, expect the former All-Star to see Grapefruit League action soon.