As Gerrit Cole turned in another solid start on Thursday, his eighth game in the Minors, Pirates fans must be wondering when the team's No. 1 Draft pick will take his next step toward Pittsburgh.
Cole, the organization's No. 2 prospect behind Jameson Taillon, struck out four and held the Dunedin Blue Jays to one run on five hits over six innings, his sixth straight start in which he's worked at least five innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer. But Class A Advanced Bradenton couldn't protect its 1-0 lead and fell to Dunedin in 11 innings, 2-1.
So a month-and-a-half into the 2012 season, how does Cole match up with the 2011 edition that went on to be selected as the No. 1 overall pick in last summer's Draft?
Through Cole's first eight starts last year with UCLA, the right-hander was 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings, including four complete games and four double-digit strikeout efforts. Thursday's no-decision has the Newport Beach, Calif., native at 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 frames in the Florida State League.
The numbers, if anything, show that Cole has adjusted well to the professional level while the Pirates remain set on limiting his innings and pitch counts. He hasn't gone beyond six innings in a start this year and his high-water mark for strikeouts is seven, which he's managed twice.
Opponents are batting just .192 against the righty, and Thursday's start was his first without issuing a walk this year.
Cole's eventual promotion to Double-A Altoona remains a mystery, especially after Marauders teammate Taillon said last week the Pirates have not even discussed a potential roadmap for the season with him. Both Cole and Taillon project to be elite right-handers for the Pirates.
Dunedin's lone rally against the Marauders' starter came in the fourth when Kevin Nolan laced a leadoff double and Marcus Knecht singled him home with two outs.
Cole retired the first seven batters he faced before working around a pair of singles in the third. He worked a 1-2-3 fifth and struck out Gabe Jacobo after surrendering his final hit, a two-out double by Jon Talley in the sixth.
Bradenton gave Cole a lead in the third when Justin Howard drew a leadoff walk and scored when Gift Ngoepe's sacrifice bunt led to a fielding error by Blue Jays second baseman Ryan Schimpf. Dunedin scored the go-ahead run in the 11th when Kevin Nolan singled and a wild pitch by Jason Townsend allowed him to score.
Egan Smith started for Dunedin and held the Marauders to an unearned run on four hits and six walks over 4 2/3 innings. Scott Gracey, Boomer Potts, Dustin Antolin and Danny Barnes patched together the final 6 1/3 scoreless frames to finish the win.