Cole closer to pitching in spring game

Bucs ace feels good after two innings of live BP, will throw bullpen session Wednesday

Cole closer to pitching in spring game

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates ace right-hander Gerrit Cole, who hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game because of right rib inflammation, took another step Monday toward returning to action.

Before the Pirates played the Phillies at McKechnie Field, Cole threw an inning of live batting practice and an inniing in a simulated game on a back field, one with a protective screen in front of him and one without. He reported no problems. He'll throw a bullpen session Wednesday, then a decision will be made whether he's ready to appear in a Grapefruit game.

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If there are no setbacks, he remains the logical choice to be the Opening Day starter after going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA last season and finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.

"It went well. I got through it clean," Cole said. "It was good to get out there. I got after some pitches. The next step is a bullpen, and after that I'm not sure."

He shrugged when asked if he was as sharp as he usually is at this point of the spring.

"The extra adrenaline and the different uniforms are kind of the real test of how sharp you are," he said. "I definitely threw a lot of strikes, pounded the zone in BP with all four pitches. and just tried to treat the next inning like a regular inning. But with good feedback from the hitters."

Said general manager Neal Huntington: "His next step will be [Wednesday]. And then from there, we'll fold him out if all goes well. Typically guys have more bullpens coming in. This will be Gerrit's fourth time off the mound.

"So if he's not completely comfortable or we're not completely comfortable, there's a chance we could repeat it. How he feels and how he looks that next time will dictate whether he goes into a game or do we repeat a side, do we repeat a live BP, do we go to a controlled environment of a sim game? It will be dependent on mostly how he feels and then how we think he looks."

Cole said he still hopes to be ready to start the season opener.

"I'm trying not to jump the gun, though," he said. "Patience is a learned skill. I feel like the patience part is over. When I came in I was just a couple bullpens behind. I've been on schedule the whole time, really. Just slightly delayed."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.