Bucs GM Neal Huntington said Wednesday that the club should not have to put the young right-hander on the sidelines in October because he's been working on a pitch limit that should make him available for an entire postseason run:
"We’ve been asked before, ‘Is [Cole] an option out of the bullpen?’ " Huntington said.
"If we (have) four starters who are better, then, sure, he can be an option out of the bullpen. But it wouldn’t be a move to the bullpen because of pitches. Every one of our pitchers has a hard pitch count.
"But based on where he is right now and where we project him going forward, he should be available to us through the World Series as a starting pitcher."
Huntington added that the difference between this situation and that of the Nats' Stephen Strasburg saga last year is "night and day" because Cole is not returning from an arm injury of any kind (let alone Tommy John) and that the club has been very conscious about building him up gradually -- a "normal progression".
A quick look at the numbers demonstrates that the Pirates have indeed been very strict about the 23-year-old's pitch counts. Cole has averaged roughly 90 pitches per start in his 16 big-league outings this season, eclipsing the century mark in just once -- 102 pitches on Aug. 2.
However, the thing that may draw concern from critics is not the number of pitches he throws per start, but his cumulative innings total between the minors and majors this year.
Cole's seven shutout frames against the Rangers on Monday brought his total to 166⅓ innings, already many more than he's thrown in any season on file (i.e. MiLB and at UCLA). If the Bucs were to reach the World Series and Cole continues to start, he could very easily pass the 200-inning mark on the year.
It's easy to see why Pittsburgh wants to keep Cole in the rotation. He has been a huge boon to the Pirates rotation since joining the fray in June, posting a 3.48 earned-run average and a strikeout-to-walk ratio around three-and-a-half in 98⅓ innings. If/when the Bucs do reach the playoffs, he could slot in very nicely behind A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano.