The most encouraging stat from the Pittsburgh Pirates' 3-2 comeback win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night? It might have been Gerrit Cole’s average fastball velocity -- 95.9 mph -- in his first start back from the disabled list. That was his second-fastest average velocity with that pitch this season.
A healthy and fully functional Cole looms large for the Pirates in their hopes to (at the very least) catch the San Francisco Giants for that second NL wild-card spot.
Cole succeeded on Wednesday against a free-swinging Atlanta Braves lineup, inducing a 34 percent chase rate that matched his highest this season. Braves hitters made eight outs against pitches from Cole that were out of the strike zone, his most in any start this season. Cole might have been a little rusty, as he walked a career-high four hitters, but he did enough to keep the game close.
Cole was able to rev his fastball to 97 mph 15 times, 10 of which came with two strikes. Braves hitters went 0-for-5 with a walk against those 15 pitches.
Another positive was his ground ball rate, which matched his season rate of 56 percent, ranking 20th best among the 140 pitchers who have thrown at least 80 innings this season.
The Pirates would love to get the kind of length that Cole gave them Wednesday (seven innings) on a more consistent basis. They hadn't gotten seven innings from a starter since Aug. 9, when Francisco Liriano went seven innings against the San Diego Padres.
Longer starts would give much-needed rest to the bullpen, which has a 4.40 ERA this month, nearly a run higher than its season ERA entering the month (3.42).
The Pirates are 10-5 in games Cole has started this season. His record in those games is 7-4. Other Pirates starters are a combined 30-40.
If the Pirates stay on schedule with their starting rotation and don’t skip any pitchers, Cole’s next two starts would both come against the St. Louis Cardinals. Cole has made four starts against the Cardinals (including two in postseason play) and allowed two earned runs or fewer in each one.