Cole trying to find root of extended struggles

Cole trying to find root of extended struggles

PITTSBURGH -- What's gone wrong with Gerrit Cole?

This time last year, Cole was establishing himself as one of the game's best young pitchers, beginning an eight-start stretch that would cement his status as a top-five Cy Young Award finisher in the National League. But now, after a disappointing five-inning outing in a 5-4 loss to the Astros at PNC Park, Cole is searching for answers.

"Didn't do what I needed to do today to keep us in the ballgame," Cole said. "That's unfortunate."

Cole allowed five runs on seven hits, pushing his August ERA to 6.07. He's given up 41 hits in 26 2/3 innings this month. After allowing 12 hits in back-to-back outings, Cole was hit hard by an aggressive Astros lineup and made to pay for every mistake.

"I hate to sound simplistic, but the overall command is coming and going," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You could probably say he's wild in the strike zone."

For the most part this season, Cole has shown a firm grasp of the strike zone. He only walked one Astros batter and struck out four. He pitched a perfect first inning and a clean third. But when he made a mistake, when he left a pitch up or in the middle of the strike zone, the Astros didn't miss. More than anything, that has been the bane of Cole's bad stretch.

"When I was able to get it there, I had some success, got some broken bats, ground balls and weak fly balls," Cole said. "I'm just getting killed when I miss."

Is it a matter of missing more often, or is he simply not getting away with mistakes that he might have in the past?

"It's a little bit of both. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that, no, I'm just having bad luck," Cole said. "I'm not pitching as well as I'm capable of. But at the same time, one bad pitch, I don't get away with it."

Cole was hit hard Wednesday. Carlos Correa's second-inning single came off his bat at 107 mph, according to Statcast™, then Evan Gattis ripped a 93-mph fastball 413 feet to center for a two-run homer. Marwin Gonzalez crushed a fastball into the right-center-field gap at 107 mph for an RBI triple in the fourth.

Cole has been working between starts to find a more consistent delivery and breaking ball. He's evaluating his sequencing, looking for a way to better use his pitches.

He's dealt with a disjointed season, starting late in Spring Training due to rib inflammation and sidelined for a month with a triceps strain, so perhaps the solution is simply more time on the mound.

Cole believes he will find his form, joining the rest of a suddenly shutdown Pirates pitching staff.

"I'm trying to go about it the best way I can. It's not easy," he said. "I try to show up and do my job and get my work in every day, keep pressing forward. It'll turn itself around."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.