3/12/2014 5:42 P.M. ET
Cole pleased with progress in second spring start
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole didn't have everything working on Wednesday. But he also didn't need everything working. Cole, the top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, stepped to the mound for his second Spring Training start Wednesday and characterized it as a big step forward.
"There were some good things about it, but there are still some things that need to be cleaned up," he said of his three innings against the Twins. "I can command the ball a little bit better than I did today."
Cole threw 59 pitches in Pittsburgh's 8-4 win, and Minnesota reached him for an unearned run in the first inning. The right-hander gave up a single to Joe Mauer in the first inning and later walked the All-Star, but he struck out three batters and stranded three men on base.
Cole, who pitched to a 10-7 record with a 3.22 ERA for the Pirates last season, said that he had some trouble with spotting his breaking ball on Wednesday. Cole throws both a curveball and a slider, and while they're important, he said they don't both have to be working at the same time.
"It just depends what's working that day. That's the luxury of having two," said Cole of his two varieties of breaking ball. "You don't have to throw two every game. You don't have to have a good slider and a good curveball. You can just pitch with your curveball. I think having two can sometimes be a detriment, trying to perfect both of them. You just kind of take them for what you are. If you have them both that day, good. If you don't, you just try to get outs. You just try to get outs as quick as you can."
Cole was most disappointed by a sequence in the third inning in which he threw six straight balls. Four of those balls went to Mauer, and Cole would've liked to make the first baseman swing the bat. But for the most part, he said that he was thrilled with the way his stuff played out on Wednesday.
"I initially was throwing [the slider] a little too hard, so I tried to take a little off," said Cole. "And then I tried to get the curveball working, just trying to get some feel. Not necessarily pitching sequences, just trying to throw quality pitches. If I didn't like a pitch, I repeated it and tried to make it better."
Last year, Cole became the first Pittsburgh pitcher in more than 100 years to win the first four starts of his career. The last guy to do that was Nick Maddox in 1907, and manager Clint Hurdle is convinced that if Cole can stay healthy, he is capable of cracking the 200-inning barrier and fulfill his ace potential.
"A full season. That's a challenge. Sometimes, I think that gets pushed to the side," said Hurdle of the obstacles awaiting Cole. "People want to see bigger, better, faster, stronger. If he can compete and go out there for a full season, I think you'll see a number of things happen. ... But that would be the goal going in: Get him up, get him ready out of the blocks with us and be able to finish."
New addition Decker vies for big league opportunity
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jaff Decker has thrived at every level of the Minor Leagues, and his chance for big league success may soon be arriving. Decker, acquired from the Padres last winter, doubled off veteran Kevin Correia Wednesday and finds himself in the mix for playing time in right field.
Decker, who sports a career .402 on-base percentage in the Minors, got a brief audition with the Padres last season before being traded to Pittsburgh in November. Now, he's trying to fit in with his new team and to carve out some playing time, and he said it's been an enjoyable experience so far.
"I met a couple guys in December, so it was kind of an easy transition," said Decker. "Baseball players come out and play the same game, and we're here to get along. It's a big family, even though you're on another team, but I was welcomed here with open arms, and I feel like I've fit in."
Decker's third-inning double off Correia upped his batting average to .167 this spring, but he said he's just working on his timing and he isn't worried about his statistics so far. Manager Clint Hurdle said after Wednesday's 8-4 win over Minnesota that he's seen a lot of good things from Decker.
"A lot of things that our scouts liked about him," he said. "Baseball awareness. Backyard ballplayer. Hits the ball where it's pitched. Works counts. Sees pitches. Usable speed. He can play all three defensive positions. Right now, I'm sure he'd like to be on base more than he has been. Again, it's Spring Training. He's made good decisions when he's been on the bases and in the outfield."
The Pirates still aren't quite sure on what they're going to do in right field this season, and Hurdle said that they're not married to the idea of a platoon with Jose Tabata. There is an opportunity for someone to step up and take the job, and Decker is confident that he can be that player in time.
"One-hundred percent," said Decker of whether he thinks that he's ready to thrive in the Major Leagues. "I feel the years I've put in and getting a taste of it last year with San Diego has gotten me ready mentally and physically. Now, it's almost just go play now and let it happen."
Hurdle, just halfway through the Spring Training schedule, would like to take some more time to sort out his options. Decker may be ready to stick, but the Pirates are willing to wait and see.
"I don't know that right now," said Hurdle. "I've got another two-and-a-half weeks to watch him. I've only watched him for less than three weeks. ... I'm glad we have him and we'll see how that fit works out."
Healthy Snider competes for outfield reserve spot
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Pirates have thought about a lot of things with Travis Snider. But one thing they haven't considered is a position switch. Manager Clint Hurdle was asked Thursday if Pittsburgh has considered moving the outfielder to first base, and he said that isn't really an option.
"Has not even been talked about," said Hurdle. "For us, the bat is the thing that we've been trying to get in place. Switching a position isn't going to matter. We've got to get the bat right."
Snider, the 14th overall selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, has played in more than 400 games at the big league level, but he's never been able to put it all together. The 26-year-old is a career .334 hitter in Triple-A, but he's yet to experience sustained success in the Majors.
Snider has a chance to seize playing time in right field and to latch on as an outfield reserve with the Pirates, but he has to get his legs under him this spring. The Pirates acquired him from Toronto in 2012 in exchange for Brad Lincoln, and Hurdle knows Snider still has a lot of untapped potential.
"I think this might be the healthiest he's been since we've had him," he said. "He's had stretches of health where he's been a somewhat productive player, but he gets dinged here and dinged there. ... Young players, when they're in that transition stage, almost to a fault -- I probably did it -- then you want to play catch up. If you miss time, you want to catch up and then you get outside yourself."
• Phil Irwin has recovered from a sore right elbow and is slated to pitch against Tampa Bay on Thursday.
• Jason Grilli allowed two earned runs in a Triple-A start against the Phillies on Wednesday.
• Stolmy Pimentel threw three innings and gave up one run in a Double-A start against the Phillies. Tony Watson threw two scoreless relief innings against the Phillies in that game.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.