HOUSTON–Gerrit Cole generated most of the buzz at Minute Maid Park by lighting up the radar guns, but Kendal Volz got the all-important "W". The Baylor junior righthander turned in seven masterful innings, allowing no runs, four hits and three walks while striking out six in a 5-1 victory against UCLA. Bruins ace Gerrit Cole was nearly as good, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and five walks over six innings, striking out eight.
"Kendal, I thought, was just really, really efficient," Baylor coach Steve Smith said. "He just pitched. He looked like a pretty polished guy–he had three pitches going and just really made big pitches several different times in the game. Gerrit, obviously, just has a really special arm . . . It was pretty clear early on we were going to have to be very disciplined, take some pitches, try to get him out of the game, because he’s just got a big, big arm."
Cole touched 99 mph in the first inning on the first pitch to No. 2 hitter Joey Hainsfurther (a swinging strike). He sat 94-98 for the entire inning and struck out the side (on a pair of 97 mph heaters and another at 94), but Baylor got an unearned run in between. Cole threw 17 balls and 16 strikes in that first inning, issuing two walks and a wild pitch. Bruins coach John Savage said adrenaline might have played a role in Cole’s early control issues.
While Cole threw 33 pitches in the first, Volz threw just 28 pitches through the first three innings. His stuff wasn’t nearly as explosive–he touched 91 mph with his fastball twice in seven innings but otherwise sat at 88-90–but his command was excellent, particularly in the early going. Twenty of Volz’s 28 pitches over the first three innings were strikes, resulting in four groundouts, two pop flies and a strikeout.
"I was trying to keep the ball down and really let our defenders play well," Volz said. "The field plays slower than what we’re used to. I was just trying to fill up the zone and let our defense go to work.
"I think as the season progresses (my fastball velocity) will go back up. Later in the season I should be able to let it go a little more. I have more in the tank, but I’m just trying to throw strikes and get outs right now."
As the game progressed, both pitchers expanded their repertoires. Volz threw 18 of his 41 fastballs over the first three innings, but by the end of the game he had thrown more sliders (47) than fastballs. He used the 77-80 mph slider to record five of his six strikeouts and 10 of 21 outs. He didn’t throw his first 82-83 mph changeup until the third inning, but he wound up throwing 14 in the game. He showed good feel for the pitch, and it was quite effective as a setup pitch.
"I try to keep that in my back pocket until later in the game, try to make them think a little more," Volz said. "I threw it when I needed to use it and it definitely helped a lot. It’s something I worked a lot on last summer and then this fall, so I was really pleased with that . . . It seemed like they were having trouble making contact on my slider, so I ended up kind of relying on that pitch in big situations."
Cole leaned much more heavily on his fastball. His first 16 pitches of the game were fastballs, none below 95 mph. He continued to sit in the 93-96 range for the duration of his start and reached 98 on his final pitch of the fifth inning, a called third strike on Shaver Hansen. In all, 73 of Cole’s 104 pitches were fastballs. Of the 16 pitches he threw to record outs, 10 were fastballs. And seven of his eight strikeouts came on fastballs.
In the first two innings, Cole used an 85 mph breaking ball sparingly as his No. 2 pitch, but by the third he had mostly ditched it in favor of an 83-84 mph changeup with excellent sink and fade. He threw just three total changeups over the first two innings, but used 10 of them to cruise through the third. Cole recorded outs with his changeup five times in the game overall.
"I don’t care if it’s up to 99, you’ve still got to settle in and pitch at this level. He’s becoming a pitcher right before our eyes, and he’s going to be a special one, but you’ve still got to mix," Savage said. "They can hit a good fastball. We threw a lot of fastballs early in the game, and they put up a run, and he settled in, and we started using that change and that breaking ball. You can see how effective he can be–he does have three pitches."
Cole finished with 73 fastballs, 23 changeups and eight breaking balls. He commanded the changeup the best of the three, throwing it for 16 strikes and seven balls. By contrast, his fastball resulted in 36 strikes and 37 balls.
So Cole still needs to refine his fastball command, but he was quite dominant in any case. The Bears couldn’t get to Cole after the first inning, but his high pitch count early on hastened his exit after six innings (he also had a blister on his hand at the end of his outing, but Savage confirmed that his day would have been finished anyway). Baylor got to the UCLA bullpen for two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to put the game away.
Meanwhile Volz, the savvy veteran, pitched to contact, kept his pitch count down and gave his team one inning more than Cole. That put less strain on the bullpen, and reliever Willie Kempf was able to negotiate the final two frames for the save.
Cole is going to be a superstar for UCLA, but today Volz was the better pitcher.
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