PITTSBURGH -- With a dominant but overworked bullpen and a grueling stretch schedule laid out on either side of them, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle openly wished Monday afternoon for a seven-inning start at some point in the near future.
Despite a rocky first inning, right-hander Gerrit Cole nearly gave Pittsburgh just that. Instead, he fell one out short and suffered his third loss in four August starts as the D-backs beat the Pirates, 4-1, at PNC Park.
Cole gave up four runs on nine hits and struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, just the second time all season he's allowed more than three earned runs in a start. And all the damage came early, though Cole couldn't quite figure out why.
"I can't put my finger on it," Cole said. "The best I can do is just try to keep moving forward as the game progresses."
Cole was able to do that, but only after allowing two runs on a trio of hard-hit balls in the first inning, another run in the second and a homer in the fourth. Hurdle pointed to Cole's subpar fastball command and slider as the main issues early on.
"He didn't get out of the gates very clean," Hurdle said. "We made some mistakes over the plate, and they were able to put the barrel on some balls early."
But Cole, still tied for the Major League lead with 14 wins despite a winless August so far, found a way to battle back. Catcher Francisco Cervelli started to call for more curveballs and changeups, searching for a way to get the Bucs' 24-year-old ace on track.
"In the beginning, the command wasn't there," Cervelli said. "But then he came back strong and gave us a chance to win the game."
Yet after winning 14 of Cole's first 18 starts, the Pirates have now dropped four of his past six. Cole was at his pitch-efficient best in July, going 3-1 and throwing at least seven innings in each of his four starts.
He looked anything but efficient in the first inning Monday, piling up 30 pitches as he battled his command.
But Cole eventually found his command and his tempo, throwing 80 pitches over the next 5 2/3 innings and falling just one out short of the seven-inning start Hurdle was looking for.
"I was kind of in and out of rhythms throughout the game," Cole said. "Trying to take the positives from it, [I] outlasted the other guy, got deeper into the ballgame, got as many outs as I could.
"We're going to try to build off the last few innings and take it into the next start."
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.