Unfortunately, the thing that stuck out the most about Gerrit Cole's first six starts for Double-A Altoona involved two scary comebackers. That was remedied Tuesday.
MLB.com's No. 8 prospect allowed three hits and one walk while striking out six over six shutout innings, but the Curve lost to Trenton, 2-1. The outing was his first scoreless start and his first six-inning affair since being promoted from Class A Advanced Bradenton on June 19.
That provided for the best outing of the 21-year-old right-hander's brief career in the Eastern League, after starting 2-4 with a 4.85 ERA. That wasn't lost upon the hurler.
"I would say it's the best I've participated, but not necessarily the best I've felt," he said. "Establishing the fastball was the biggest part of it for me. It was better today than it perhaps has been before, and just having a pitch that I could go to when I needed it really helped. That was the biggest thing."
Cole, who lowered his ERA to 3.94, only allowed one Thunder baserunner to reach scoring position -- Rob Segedin on a sixth-inning double -- before finishing his night after six innings and just 82 pitches (53 for strikes).
The numbers in Cole's pitching line were tight, but the digits that left people in Waterfront Park buzzing came from the stadium radar gun. The 2011 first overall pick hit 100 mph five times Tuesday, including three times in the sixth inning.
The increase in fastball velocity over time, reminiscent perhaps of the equally hard-throwing AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, is no mistake, according to Cole.
"In the start of the game, I'm just looking to apply my mechanics and get a gameplan down," said the Pirates' No. 2 prospect. "But as I get deeper into the game, I can become more aggressive because I've faced these guys a few times and crank it up a little. I almost never get tired too, so I've usually got something left in the tank even late."
Cole's hand was forced as he approached the later innings. No. 20 Yankees prospect Brett Marshall was equal to the task, allowing just one run on four hits in his six innings on the mound for the Thunder.
Although he admitted he didn't pay much attention to Marshall's individual performance, Cole did acknowledge that he kept an eye on the scoreboard and tried to pitch accordingly.
"When it's tight like that, you don't want to do anything to let them hit it out or put a runner in scoring position," he said. "It just makes you more cautious about what you're doing out there."
The UCLA product was already being careful on the hill, ever since being plunked by two line drives June 26. A CT scan was negative, and the only resulting injury was a jaw contusion. He made his next start six days later on July 2. Although the physical effects were limited, the mental repercussions still linger a little.
"It was definitely something I was thinking about when I stepped on the mound again [in my next start]," Cole said. "I'm still pretty flinchy when a ball comes back at me though. It was more apprehension than anything, but for the most part, I've calmed my nerves."
Now that the scary event is officially behind him, the only thing Cole has on his mind is putting together more outings like Tuesday's and ending his first professional season on a high note.
"My fastball command can still get better," he said. "I can recognize individual hitters better and how to face them in each at-bat. But it's not about getting better at this point. It's just trying to repeat the success."
The Curve starter did not receive the win, though, after reliever Hunter Strickland allowed two runs (one earned) in the seventh. Zoilo Almonte's solo homer tied the ballgame, 1-1, and JR Murphy drove in the game-winner with a sacrifice fly.