Bucs to ride Cole train in big games down stretch

'He's got a gear late,' Hurdle says of ace's September success

Bucs to ride Cole train in big games down stretch

LOS ANGELES -- Gerrit Cole pitched the Pirates to another road series win on Sunday, beating his hometown Dodgers, 4-3.

The next time he pitches, Cole may be doing so with champagne in his ears. The Pirates make a four-game stop in Colorado beginning Monday with a playoff-clinching magic number of 3.

Cole is slated to pitch on Friday in Chicago, opening the series against the still-pursuing Cubs. He's then in line to start on Sept. 30 at PNC Park, in the regular season's last game against the Cardinals, whom the Bucs are still pursuing. Beyond that, the 25-year-old righty will get the ball in the Bucs' first postseason game.

"We're gonna watch him," manager Clint Hurdle said, not placing any expectations on the assignments. "I believe in him, that's why we did it, [GM Neal Huntington] and everybody involved in the process. That's why we set him up. I believe he'll do a real good job."

Cole's goal remains the same: Keep the Cubs away from the National League Wild Card top seed, keep the Bucs on the Cards' tails.

"They wouldn't throw me in those games if they didn't have the confidence, so obviously it's a huge compliment. At the same time, it's no easy task. We're gonna have to get back to work and get ready for the next game," Cole said after bossing his way through seven innings against the Dodgers to earn his 17th win.

Hurdle talks Cole, resiliency

No Pittsburgh pitcher has won more since John Smiley, a lefty, won 20 in 1991. As for right-handers, one must go all the way back to Doug Drabek's 22 wins in 1990.

And the only pitchers, anywhere, with more than Cole's 38 wins since his mid-2013 debut are Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner.

"Pretty good company to be in, pretty special," said Cole, who is not a "perspective" guy. "But we've got work to do. Getting close to the end of the year, and this is no time to reflect on those kinds of things. Gotta keep moving forward."

More than a quarter of Cole's Major League wins have come in the month of September. His 10-2 September record is a big reason the team is headed for its third straight #Buctober.

"Every year, his September numbers have played in an impressive way," Hurdle said. "He's got a gear late."

Late, whether its the ninth month or the seventh inning. On Sunday, Cole bulldogged his way through 21 outs, getting the last two after Scott Van Slyke's solo homer had made it a one-run game.

"I had pretty good command of the fastball, and was leaning on it a lot," Cole said. "When we had two strikes, we were putting guys away."

He put nine of them away on strikes, without a walk.

"I'm not sure his secondary pitches [slider, curve, change] were sharp early. But the fastball played for him all day long," Hurdle said. "That's what got him through seven: Grit, determination, and a Major League fastball."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.