ARLINGTON — Fifteen minutes after reporters departed manager A.J. Hinch’s office and entered the Astros clubhouse, Gerrit Cole emerged.
The righthander thanked the gaggle for waiting while he finished formulating the worst start of his major league career.
A 43-pitch, five-run first inning set the evening askew. Rangers hitters atypically took the bevy of breaking balls Cole offered. Hinch even said before the game that both Cole’s slider and curveball would play well against Texas’ lineup of three lefties and two switch hitters.
“The first inning, there were no pitches over the heart of the plate that were smashed,” Cole said. “… I felt like they were on a lot of stuff in the first inning, especially their takes and some of the pitches that they chose to swing at. I think they were maybe a little bit a step ahead of me in terms of being able to identify what pitch I was throwing.”
Diplomatically, Cole revealed he was tipping his pitches — demonstrating some sort of tell before throwing certain pitches that the Rangers silently noticed. In his postgame briefing, Hinch said Texas “might have had something early on him.”
Eventually, Cole conceded the clear truth.
“Yeah, I mean, I could tell (on film) what I was throwing by watching it without knowing,” Cole said. “I’m assuming they could as well. That’s part of the game. I just have to clean that up but if you’re tipping, you still have to put a good swing on the pitch.”
Cole did not use the explanation to excuse his putrid performance. The eight earned runs he permitted were a career-high. The 4 ⅓ innings he threw were the fewest of his Astros tenure.
But assessing the start does add validity to Cole’s claims. Before he entered the fifth, Cole struck out six men in three innings and allowed just two runners to scoring position. He curtailed his pitch tipping but was eventually undone by the energy he expended in the first.
“I made some adjustments throughout the game and that seemed to clean (tipping) up and, by the time I got to the fifth, I was dog tired and started to spray again,” Cole said. “I just kept trying to make quality pitches. I dove into it a little bit but I don’t have a ton of answers.
“A lot of the stuff I saw wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but at the same time, it was bad. It was a bad night.”
Though it crept within three runs after the fifth inning, Houston never realistically maintained a chance to win the game. Cole’s three-run fifth inning ensured it, completing what his first frame began.
Examining the approaches of Texas’ hitters reaffirms Cole and Hinch’s claims of tipping pitches. In the first inning, Cole threw 18 curveballs and sliders. One was swung on and missed. The first five hitters in the order saw 10 breaking balls. They combined to swing at three of them. Two came with two strikes.
Repeatedly this series, Hinch has lauded Texas’ refined plate approach under new manager Chris Woodward. Last season, he said, they swung wildly and without much care. Certainly this new approach could be manifesting here. Bear in mind, too, that Cole threw six innings against the Rangers on April 3.
“I don’t think in terms of seeing my stuff a few weeks ago was really the issue, I think they had a leg up kind of what I was saying maybe being able to predict some pitches in certain counts, tipping or whatever you want to say,” Cole said. “But, I mean, they still did a good job.”
“I’m not trying to throw a pity party. It was a bad start — probably the worst of my career — and I got four days then I have to bounce back.”