Cole to make spring debut on Sunday

Pirates' ace scheduled to pitch two innings vs. Tigers

Cole to make spring debut on Sunday

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates have lined up their ace for his Grapefruit League debut. Gerrit Cole is scheduled to pitch two innings in the Pirates' game against the Tigers on Sunday at McKechnie Field.

Cole has been working on a slightly delayed schedule due to right rib inflammation, which kept him from throwing off the mound at the start of Spring Training.

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On Monday, he threw an inning of live batting practice and an inning in a simulated game on a back field. Cole is expected to throw a side session in the bullpen Thursday, setting him up for Sunday's 1:05 p.m. ET home start against the Tigers.

That would give Cole three weeks to sharpen up and increase his workload in time for the Pirates' season opener against the Cardinals at PNC Park on April 3. If Cole isn't able to start on Opening Day, the assignment presumably would go to left-hander Francisco Liriano.

Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA last season, started the National League Wild Card Game last season for the Pirates and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Vogelsong battles: After throwing two perfect innings in his Grapefruit League debut last week, starter Ryan Vogelsong served up three runs on four hits and two walks against the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Vogelsong surrendered a double and a wind-aided homer in the first inning then battled through the third inning. He gave up two hits to lead off the third, walked two batters with one out to load the bases then induced two outs to limit the damage and escape the jam.

Taking an optimistic approach, Vogelsong is looking at it as a chance to fight through a tough inning after a spotless first outing.

"You don't want to walk two guys and get in that situation in the first place, but if you are, you use it as an experience and grind through the inning," Vogelsong said. "I was able to make some pitches and get out of it clean. Not 100 percent what I was looking to do today, but you need those, too."

Expectations, meet cookware: Manager Clint Hurdle delivered the line of the spring thus far after Wednesday's 6-2 loss to the Red Sox at McKechnie Field. Asked about outfield prospect Harold Ramirez and what his impressive numbers this spring might mean, Hurdle offered the following quote about expectations:

"I'm a crock pot," he said. "People have a tendency to be microwaves."

Bone collector: Ramirez picked up two more hits after entering the game in the sixth inning. The Bucs' No. 6 prospect has hit safely in six straight games, batting .643 (9-for-14) in eight games overall.

"He's what I call a bone collector," Hurdle said. "He gets base hits."

O'Flaherty back on track: After giving up five runs (one earned) on three hits, a walk and a hit batter in his Pirates debut on March 2, non-roster left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has settled in. The lefty pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout on Monday, and he followed that with a scoreless seventh Wednesday, in which he struck out two Red Sox hitters.

O'Flaherty, once one of the Majors' best setup men, has a chance to crack the Opening Day roster if he can recapture his old form.

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