By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — If the Pirates are good enough these last couple weeks to forgo that dreaded pigtail game in the National League playoffs, it’s quite clear Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, in an order yet to be determined, would get the nod to open the NLDS. But should rookie Gerrit Cole, instead of working from the bullpen, be given the chance to follow?

“When he was first called up, many were worried that he wouldn’t strike out enough batters, pointing to his 6.2 K/9 rate in AAA and his over-reliance on his fastball,” Yahoo! Sports contributor Michael Clair says of the 2011 first overall draftee. “At first, that was true, with Cole striking out only 29 batters in his first 48 innings. However, as his slider usage has increased, so has his strikeout rate, averaging 8.4 K/9 since July 28 and striking out nine and seven batters in his last two starts respectively.”

Click here to read the full column by Clair.

Perhaps, for Cole, 23, the best-case scenario would have been more time in Triple-A Indianapolis to fine-tune his other pitches. However, the midseason misfortunes of left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez, who was shut down by the Pirates recently due to forearm problems, essentially gave him big-league job security.

Although he’s looked vulnerable pitching to contact at times, Cole, in the bigger picture, has earned that job security, consistently leaving his team in position to win games. Amazingly, he out-dueled Rangers All-Star Yu Darvish for the Pirates’ historic 82nd victory, and he’s coming off a key Saturday night triumph over Scott Baker and the NL Central rival Cubs.

Cole (8-7, 3.33 ERA) is slated to oppose fellow righty Ian Kennedy (3-1, 3.86 ERA) in Thursday afternoon’s 12:35 series finale with the San Diego Padres at PNC Park.

The Bucs continue that series tonight at 7:05, with “Pirates Preview,” hosted by Dan Zangrilli and Kevin Orie, getting underway at 5:40 on your flagship home for Pirates baseball, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.


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