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HOUSTON — The Astros have made a habit of pushing pitchers to the next level — Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton, for example — and are hoping to do the same with Gerrit Cole. Much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom, and the team’s forward-thinking analytics department has also proven to provide the pitchers with useful information.
Cole, acquired by the Astros from the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, and prospects Colin Moran and Jason Martin, gives the Astros a hard-throwing 27-year-old who’s looking to recapture the form of his 19-win season in 2015. He gives them top-of-the-rotation potential without having to carry that burden in a deep rotation.
“I think it boils down to command, I think it boils down to executing pitches,” Cole said Wednesday when introduced to the Houston media at Minute Maid Park. “There are a lot of contributing factors, but I’m just going to trust what I do and continue use the resources around me. I’m going to try to soak up as much as I can from the veterans on this team and some of the really good players.”
Cole figures to benefit from working with veteran catcher Brian McCann, who has already reached out to him. He’ll soak up as much as he can from veteran pitcher Justin Verlander, who is entering his first full season with the Astros after coming over in an Aug. 31 trade with the Tigers.
“His is somebody every right-handed power pitcher ever has looked up to,” Cole said. “It’s a really cool opportunity to be able to work with somebody that good.”
Expect the Astros to push Cole to use his breaking ball more, knowing his 96-mph fastball remains an important part of his arsenal. He threw 12.2 percent curveballs last year and 17.2 percent sliders, but the Astros love the weak contact and spin rates.
“I’m looking forward to a new approach,” Cole said. “I know there are some things the Astros do that are different, and I’m looking forward to hearing those things and hopefully trying to get a lot better.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch loves the mindset that Cole wants to learn.
“Gerrit’s used to being a front-line pitcher in this league. He’s used to even carrying a pitching staff,” he said. “Coming over here, we want that mentality to stay the same, even though he’s got some help in this rotation to be his best.
“Certainly, we’ll talk a lot about how he’s going to use his pitches, we’re going to talk about command and the things he’s talked about, maybe some mechanical things we feel can get the best out of him. He’s open to any and all ideas. We’ve got a lot of people that are going to be working to maximize his potential and ways to get better.”
Cole, the Pirates’ first-round Draft pick in 2011 out of UCLA, went 19-22 with a 4.12 ERA during 54 starts in 2016-17 after winning 19 games in ’15. He went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings.
He’ll join an already-formidable rotation that includes Verlander, Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Morton, who’s a close friend of Cole from their Pittsburgh days. Brad Peacock, who had the best year of his career last year split between the rotation and bullpen, and steady veteran McHugh are also in the rotation conversation.
“I’m happy with the depth of this rotation,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to argue the quality we can throw out there every day if we’re healthy and we continue to push forward.”