Cole ready to build on first spring start

Hurdle 'really thrilled' with Pirates righty's 2-inning debut

Cole ready to build on first spring start

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole got back on the mound Sunday for the first time since the National League Wild Card Game with one goal: Get through it.

After being slightly set back by right rib inflammation to start Spring Training, Cole made his first Grapefruit League appearance against the Tigers at McKechnie Field, allowing two solo home runs and striking out a batter in two innings of the Pirates' 9-5 victory.

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"Just wanted to get through this one and get a feel for what's going on," Cole said. "You've got to start somewhere, so we can build off it and move forward."

Cole gave up a wind-aided leadoff homer to Detroit's Anthony Gose and surrendered another solo shot in the second, a rocket to left-center field by Casey McGehee. He retired the other six hitters he faced, recording three groundouts and striking out Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos in the first.

Gose's leadoff homer

"I was really thrilled with him being on the mound," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He threw all his pitches, so it was a good day, very good day."

That was essentially all the Pirates had hoped for in Cole's 2016 debut. Asked before the game what he wanted to see from Cole, general manager Neal Huntington answered first with one word: Health.

"Just see if he can keep his adrenaline in check ... He's such a competitive man. He's driven to be elite," Huntington said. "To remind him that it is a Spring Training game, that he's going out there to condition as much as anything else, to get the feel of his delivery as much as anything else, and continue to take the steps in the right direction."

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The rib inflammation came about during an offseason workout, and it limited the 25-year-old right-hander to flat-ground throwing when the Pirates opened camp. He threw off the mound for the first time on Feb. 22, starting a progression that most pitchers typically start before Spring Training begins.

Since then, Cole has been considered a healthy pitcher and worked on a normal schedule. From here on out, he'll be on the same schedule as every other pitcher: start, between-starts bullpen session, repeat until ready for the season.

Cole's modified schedule will keep him from being the Pirates' Opening Day starter, Hurdle announced on Friday. Francisco Liriano will pitch Pittsburgh's opener for the third straight year.

But if the rest of his spring goes according to plan, Cole should be ready the first week of the season.

"Standard procedure," Cole said.

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.