Gerrit Cole has garnered a lot of attention and hype, and at this point, he's turned the nerves that come along with the big moments into a positive.
"I felt pretty good, some butterflies beforehand, but they went away like they always do," Cole said after making his much-anticipated Double-A debut on Wednesday night. "It just happens every game, but that was kind of reassuring -- it was like any other start."
For a while, it looked like another of Cole's dominant starts in the Florida State League. He ended up holding New Britain to a pair of runs on five hits and struck out six over five innings as Altoona beat the Rock Cats, 9-4.
Cole (1-0) took a no-hitter into the fourth inning before Twins No. 2 prospect Aaron Hicks lined a leadoff double and scored on Chris Colabello's single. It was Hicks again an inning later who easily handled one of Cole's fastballs and turned it into an RBI single that trimmed Altoona's lead to 8-2.
"I tried to establish the fastball early and then went to the changeup. It was feeling good," said Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft out of UCLA. He mentioned the change as a key complement to a fastball that's been known to reach triple digits. "I have confidence in it. I'll throw it with two strikes or early in the count."
Cole, who was reached for three hits in his final inning, popped up Chris Herrmann to end his night after 72 pitches. Scouts reportedly clocked Cole's fastball as high as 98 mph, although the radar gun at Peoples Natural Gas Field had him maxing out at 96.
That, however, isn't as important. The Pirates No. 2 prospect knows he's facing better, more patient hitters in the Eastern League. Pure heat won't get the job done all the time, as Hicks reminded him.
"It's not about velocity anymore, it's about location and changing speed," he said. "You're trying to force contact and get quick outs and get your guys back in the dugout."
But Cole more or less resembled the ace he was with Class A Advanced Bradenton. He's held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts. He said he took Wednesday's outing, one that came less than 100 miles from the parent club in Pittsburgh, the same way he's approached any other start.
"[I'm] staying the same, controlling what you can control, just going out there and pitching," he said.
Cole said his first-pitch fastball was big early in the game.
"It's a huge part of anybody's game, to get quick outs, so you can always get better at it," he said. "It was pretty good tonight, but again, you gotta stay on top of it."
The start had a few other memorable moments, including a 15-minute delay following a power failure. Cole took the break to stay focused.
"It was actually nice to get some warmup pitches in before [the lights] went out," he said. "Just came in, threw on a jacket and tried to keep rolling."
He also had Curve fans excited in the fifth when a strikeout of a pre-selected Rock Cat would have gotten free hamburgers for everyone in attendance. Cole said he didn't even hear the chants on the mound -- and no burgers were given away.
As far as making adjustments from the free-swinging FSL, Cole said there's room for improvements next time.
"They might have been a little more aggressive early, but the second time, that was expected. I need to make better pitches," he said.
The 21-year-old right-hander also spoke about the ability to handle big games after going through the Draft twice (he didn't sign with the Yankees after they selected him in the first round in 2008) and making debuts in the FSL and Arizona Fall League.
"It's gotten a lot simpler, I'm more comfortable with the routine. It's just a matter of going out there and treating it like another start," he said. "[It's about] getting comfortable with your surroundings and all the situations that pro ball throws at you. You just tuck 'em under your belt and move on."
Altoona cruised to the win, thanks to homers from Robbie Grossman -- the Pirates' No. 7 prospect -- and Quincy Latimore.