Focus a big key to Cole's success on the mound

Focus a big key to Cole's success on the mound

PITTSBURGH -- It was on Friday night when Gerrit Cole started to get amped up for his Sunday start. He's locked in and focused every time he takes the mound, but he particularly enjoys the opportunity to set the tone at the start of a series and the chance to finish one off.

Cole got that chance on Sunday afternoon against the Nationals and capitalized. He allowed one run over 7 2/3 innings, as the Pirates capped off a four-game series victory with a 3-1 win at PNC Park.

"Coming out and winning the first two [games on Thursday and Friday], I was just ready to get back out there and close this thing out," Cole said.

Cole earns win No. 14

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle could tell Cole was preparing for his start even during the last three games. Hurdle said it looked like Cole was "hunting in the dugout," watching the Nationals' hitters and what kind of swings they were taking.

"The way he works, I think he uses it to [his] advantage," Hurdle said.

Cole did just that, striking out eight Washington hitters without allowing a walk. He picked up his Major League-leading 14th win of the year and lowered his ERA to 2.24, which ranks behind only Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom in the National League.

Cole became the first Pirates pitcher to reach 14 wins before August since Dock Ellis finished July 1971 with a 15-4 record.

"It's special," Cole said. "Obviously, there's a lot of different factors that can go into that. ... That's really a credit more to [the team as a whole] than it is to me."

But Cole has earned his share of the credit, as well, with performances like this. He didn't have the same electric stuff he showed on Tuesday in Kansas City, when he had all four of his pitches working well.

He utilized his fastball up in the zone and mixed in his slider. He got ahead of hitters and retired them quickly, needing only 103 pitches and nearly completing eight innings for the third time this season.

Cole credited right fielder Gregory Polanco for setting the tone for his outing in the first inning. Cole got two quick outs on five pitches, then gave up a sharp single to Bryce Harper.

Polanco's strong throw

Harper tried to turn that single into a double, hustling toward second base. But Polanco managed to nail Harper at second with a great throw to shortstop Jung Ho Kang.

Cole took it from there. He gave up a solo homer to Michael A. Taylor and a single to Danny Espinosa in the third inning, then set down 10 straight hitters.

"I just think the focus, the intent to pitch, the execution of the pitches again. Very well-pitched game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He got after it. Fun to watch."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.