Braves Can’t Solve Cole Through Seven
ATLANTA – Gerrit Cole occasionally struggled with his command, hitting two batters and issuing a season-high three walks.
It didn’t matter, though. Cole was still tough enough to become the NL’s leader with nine wins and a 1.73 ERA, pitching the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Atlanta Braves 3-0 Sunday.
“I was all over the place today,” he said. “And like I said, I wasn’t very efficient. It’s not typical of me. There were some weird things going on with the delivery out there. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out.”
Cole pitched seven scoreless innings to win his fourth straight start, backed when Starling Marte hit a two-run single in the three-run fifth inning.
The first overall draft pick of 2011, Cole became the first Pirates pitcher since Emil Yde in 1924-25 with 30 victories in 53 or fewer career starts.
Cole (9-2) allowed six hits and struck out seven, throwing 74 of his career-high 116 pitches for strikes. His 13 victories over his last 17 starts lead the majors over that span.
“He was able to push them back every time he got in the stretch,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “Made quality pitches. He used all his pitches again today. The fastball velocity maintained from start to finish.”
Mark Melancon earned his 18th save in 19 chances, facing the minimum in the ninth.
The Pirates have won five of six and 13 of 16. They’ve lost only two of their last nine series overall and won seven games on a road trip for the first time in 10 years.
Atlanta has dropped four of five.
Alex Wood (4-3) allowed seven hits, three runs, one walk and struck out five in five innings before getting ejected, apparently yelling at home plate umpire Mark Carlson while walking off the field following the third out.
“I think it was a combination of everything. I thought that two balls to (Cole) were strikes,” Wood said. “One of them probably wasn’t, but I think the frustration of the whole game leading up to that and then the three runs they scored that inning, too.”
Wood had won three straight starts with a 1.23 ERA during that span, but he dropped to 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in four starts this year at Turner Field.
The Braves’ tempers were testy after Cole hit Freeman in the right leg to load the bases in the third and escaped the jam by striking out Nick Markakis and getting Juan Uribe to ground out.
After Cole hit Andrelton Simmons in the left arm with a 99 mph fastball during the fourth, Simmons yelled back, but the situation didn’t escalate.
Cole insisted he wasn’t intentionally throwing at the Braves.
“I started getting a little better as the game went on,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t very efficient. I was missing a lot of spots today but I needed to bear down a couple times. Fortunately, things went our way in those situations.”
Wood threw inside at Cole, the second batter in the fifth, but decided against hitting him as retribution and instead walked Cole on six pitches.
Following singles by Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer to load the bases, Wood struck out Andrew McCutchen, but Marte followed with a two-run single to make it 2-0, and Jung Ho Kang gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead with an RBI single.
Carlson warned both benches in the seventh when Brandon Cunniff threw behind McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP.
Cole struggled with his command in the sixth, walking two straight to load the bases, but the right-hander ended the threat by striking out pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich.
Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco had his knee iced before the game after getting injured on Saturday. He flew out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, snapping a 10-game hitting streak.
Braves: OF Kelly Johnson will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday. Johnson has missed 22 straight games with an oblique injury.
Pirates: RHP A.J. Burnett (6-1) has won each of his last six starts and had a 1.45 ERA in the first five. He his 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA in 11 career starts against Milwaukee.
Braves: RHP Shelby Miller (5-2) will try to win for the first time in his last four starts. Against San Diego, Miller is 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA.