Hurdle: 'A lot of growth' in Cole's 2017 season

Ace crosses 200-innings threshold, makes career-high 33 starts

Hurdle: 'A lot of growth' in Cole's 2017 season

WASHINGTON -- How do you evaluate the season Gerrit Cole finished Friday night at Nationals Park?

As manager Clint Hurdle often says, you can "hunt the good" and find plenty of it in Cole's overall body of work. Doing so requires a full appreciation of how Cole finished last season, on the 60-day disabled list with an injured throwing elbow, and where he began this year, facing questions about his health on the first day of Spring Training.

In that regard, Cole delivered this year by never missing a turn through the rotation. He crossed the 200-innings threshold in the Pirates' 6-1 loss to the Nationals on Friday, and he finished the year with 203 innings over a career-high 33 starts.

When Cole evaluates his work this year, those two numbers come to the forefront.

"It was really important. I changed my offseason program and put a lot of focus and commitment into it, knowing that you can only help when you're available," Cole said. "It's nice to see from that aspect it was a success. … I've held up, physically, the best I have in my entire career this year."

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Cole's season ended Friday with a loss, his 12th of the season, that featured some encouraging signs and results that didn't match his impressive arsenal. Cole gave up three runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven over 5 1/3 innings. Overall, he finished with 20 quality starts, a 4.26 ERA, 196 strikeouts and 31 home runs allowed, and the Pirates won 17 of his 33 outings.

There was plenty of good to be found in Cole's season -- a full and healthy season, some excellent starts, elite fastball velocity and a true four-pitch mix -- but not enough for Pittsburgh's Opening Day starter to rank among the game's best, as he did in 2015.

"There's more good ballgames than not," Cole said. "I don't think the ERA, some of those home run numbers really [had] that big of an effect. They certainly didn't stop me from doing my job for the entire year.

"When you want to take it to the next level, when you really try to dissect things and really try to improve, those are probably a couple numbers that I would like to see a little lower, for sure. Like I said, there's a lot more good than bad. Some things spiral out of control at times, and unfortunately, we weren't able to put our foot down. They show up at the end of the year on the stat line. But there's a lot of good work."

Hurdle discusses Cole's start

Hurdle said he will not only remember Cole's durability this season, but also the "physicality" he displayed from start to finish.

Cole entered his final start with the fifth-highest average four-seam fastball velocity among Major League starters, at 95.9 mph, and his average four-seamer Friday night clocked in at 96.3 mph. If anything, Cole said, he ended the year in better shape than he started it.

"That's one of the things I think he's very positive and optimistic about, the shape he was able to get in and the shape he stayed in … and the shape he's going to be in next year," Hurdle said. "He took some more steps forward in learning the game, understanding hitters, reading swings and understanding himself. There was a lot of growth."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.