Pirates’ Cole trying to avoid sophomore slump

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BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a long list of great hitters throughout the franchise history, including such Hall of Famers as Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.


Andrew McCutchen, won was the NL MVP last season, might someday join that list.


The list of great pitchers in Pirates’ history is much shorter, though, as just five have won at 150 games, the last being Vernon Law who retired in 1967. Walker Cooper holds the club record with 202 and he last threw a pitch in a Pittsburgh uniform in 1924.


While he has just 10 wins and 19 starts to his name and is just 23, it’s hard not to wonder if right-hander Gerrit Cole might become one of the few standout pitchers in club history.


“He’s a very special young man,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.


Cole was 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA last season as a rookie. He struck out 100 in 117 innings while allowing 109 hits and 28 walks. His fastball averaged 96.1 mph, the best in the major leagues among pitchers who threw at least 110 innings, according to FanGraphs.


Those numbers don’t completely tell the story, however, of the pitcher the Pirates chose with the first overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft from UCLA and signed to a franchise-record $8 million bonus.


In his last eight regular-season starts, Cole was 6-2 with a 2.28 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 13 walks in helping the Pirates both reach the playoffs and post their first winning record since 1992.


Cole was stellar while splitting two starts against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL division series, allowing three runs and five hits in 11 innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks.


“You saw a different Gerrit Cole at the end last season than you saw when he first walked in the door,” Hurdle said.


“He loves to compete whether it’s anything he does. This man wants to come out on top. He did through college. Every conversation I’ve had with anybody that’s been tied to him, since he started pitching in competitive baseball and competitive situations say the same think and we’ve seen it with our player development staff,” he said.


Cole enjoyed pitching on the big stage last October and would like another opportunity. He says in order to be successful again to be successful in his second year is to continue what he did as a rookie.


“The season went by so quickly and I just realized that I had been taking the same approach and that was just taking it one game at a time, one start at a time and just taking care of business in between those starts,” Cole said.


“I think it was part of my strength, just being able to stay really focused and stay in the present and not look too far ahead or dwell too much on the past,” he said.


In fact, Cole plans to repeat that pattern this season.


“Last year was a great year for us and for the team,” Cole said. “It was nice to sit back in the winter and enjoy what we accomplished. At the same time, it was easy to start looking to looking forward to this season, both from a personal standpoint and a team standpoint. I’m champing at the bit to get the season going and so is everyone.”


Yankees defeat Pirates: New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia pitched four scoreless innings in his final tuneup for opening day, a 4-2 victory over the Pirates Thursday in Bradenton, Fla.


Pitching in a steady drizzle, Sabathia faced 13 batters, allowed three hits and got five ground-ball outs. He finished spring training with 17 scoreless innings.


“I had some easy innings,” Sabathia said. “I worked on making sure my location was good on a couple pitches. I threw the two-seamer pretty good and got some ground balls with it.”


Coming off the poorest season of his big league career, Sabathia starts Tuesday at Houston.


Ichiro Suzuki went 3-for-3 with one RBI and a run scored. Eduardo Nunez and Mark Teixeira also had one RBI apiece.


Former Washington Wild Things pitcher Vidal Nuno, who is trying to win a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen, pitched a perfect sixth inning, striking out two batters.


Pittsburgh’s Stolmy Pimentel allowed four runs and nine hits in four innings, struck out three and walked one.


Pimentel will likely pen the season in the bullpen as a long reliever but will be a candidate for spot starts. Just 24, he will be a candidate for the starting rotation in 2015, when the Pirates may have to replace Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez.


Liriano (left groin) reported no ill effects one day after throwing a simulated game and remains on track to be the opening-day starter. It was the first time he’d thrown off a mound in nearly a week.


“It didn’t bother me at all,” Liriano said. “I feel normal. I think I’m ready to go.”


The left-hander’s final hurdle will come Saturday, when he is to throw a bullpen session.


Volquez will remain in Florida for extended spring training after the Pirates break camp. He’s scheduled to throw up to 100 pitches Sunday in a minor league game. Volquez, who signed a $5 million deal in December, is to make his Pirates debut April 6 at home against the St. Louis Cardinals.


It was the Florida finale for the Pirates, who play the Phillies today and Saturday in Philadelphia and host the Chicago Cubs Monday in their opener.


Money matters: Outfielder Starling Marte finalized a $31 million, six-year contract that buys out all of Marte’s arbitration-eligible years and his first year of potential free agency. The deal includes club options for 2020 and 2021.


Roster moves: Right-hander Brandon Cumpton was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Last season, he went 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA in six outings with the Pirates, including five spot starts. … Pittsburgh acquired outfielder Keon Broxton from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named and assigned him to Double-A Altoona. The 23-year-old was a third-round pick in the 2009 amateur draft.


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