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Cole gets his catcher back

Gerrit Cole got his regular catcher back with Chris Stewart behind the plate and the Pirates ace delivered.

There is little to no doubt that if the Pirates are in a one-game playoff or a winner-take-all game, Gerrit Cole should be pitching it. The debate lies in whether it should be Francisco Cervelli or Chris Stewart catching him.

August had been rough to Cole before Saturday’s 112 pitch masterpiece, and part of that may lie with his battery mate. Cervelli caught Cole in his last two starts, and the results weren’t good, combining to go just 12 innings with seven earned runs (eight in total) and 16 hits.

It was bold to rip Cole away from his caddie in St. Louis three starts ago. Cervelli’s bat is tough to lose, but that hardly seemed like the appropriate environment to do such an experiment. Although he has pitched like an ace, it’s easy to forget he’s just 24 years old and barely has two years of service time under his belt. Don’t yank his security blanket away from him when on the road against the team with the best record in baseball. Especially when the numbers say that Cole is far better with Stewart.

Cole’s ERA with Cervelli is 3.79. With Stewart, it’s 2.13. He lasts an average of 5.94 innings with Cervelli and 6.67 with Stewart. He also allows far fewer walks per nine innings with Stewart (1.91) than Cervelli (2.77).

The numbers back up Stewart. So why is it so bad that Cervelli doesn’t catch Cole with the season on the line?

In a do-or-die game, the catcher’s spot in the lineup is likely to appear three times while Cole is on the mound. With Stewart behind the dish, the Pirates are poised to surrender 1.66 fewer runs. Knowing that Stewart can be pinch-hit for with Cervelli after Cole’s night is done, is it realistic to assume that Cervelli will create more than those one and two-thirds runs with his bat in three plate appearances than Stewart would? It’s not like Stewart has been a slouch at the dish, hitting .288 with a respectable 89 wRC+.

If you need anymore evidence, look at Cole’s last two starts. Against the Diamondbacks Monday, Cole came out to try to pitch a seventh inning when he had a high pitch count. He opened the inning with a walk and was chased after giving up a two-out single. Saturday, he entered the seventh with a high pitch count and opened the inning with a walk. Except this time, he finished the inning and stranded the runner to keep it a tie game.

“We were up against the wall and we had to make some pitches,” Cole said.

That quote have read perfectly fine if Cole had said “I” instead of “we.” But there is no “I” in Cole or Stewart.

Manager Clint Hurdle said that Cole’s “entire body of work was better” Saturday afternoon. That may have been because of the mit he was throwing to, and it’s not worth experimenting with Cervelli again to see if it was.

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