Cole making Bucs look good

PITTSBURGH – You watch Gerrit Cole pitch, and you can see why the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the first pick in the 2011 draft.

He’s a commanding presence on the mound, a power pitcher with velocity near 100 miles per hour. He also has uncommon poise. He didn’t get flustered in his major league debut at PNC Park, and he was just as cool pitching in front of family and friends in Anaheim last week.

There’s a lot to like, and ample reason to believe Cole will be an anchor of the Pirates’ starting staff for years.

Given all of that, it’s easy to forget that he’s only pitched 18 innings in the major leagues. That’s 55 outs.

He’s been good, but there’s still room for improvement.

That’s why it’s not outrageous to suggest that Cole could go back to the minor leagues for a brief time. Some people are acting as though he’s proven himself in the major leagues. He hasn’t. He’s been pretty good, and his potential is enormous.

But he’s pitched 18 1/3 innings at this level. No opponent has seen him a second time.

If he does go back to Indianapolis, it will probably be to make sure he doesn’t qualify for salary arbitration after two seasons. Delaying his eligibility for arbitration will probably save millions. It’s no small consideration.

If Cole has to go back, he probably won’t be happy. He’s done well, and you can’t beat the major league life. Pitching in front of 35,000 people in Pittsburgh beats playing before 6,500 in Indianapolis.

But a brief minor league assignment wouldn’t be out of line, especially given the significant financial considerations.

Cole will make plenty of starts in the major leagues, and he’ll be making big money soon enough. (He’s already banked an $8 million signing bonus).

But right now, he’s a pitcher with 18 innings of major league experience.

No returns

Rushel Shell is still three months away from his 20th birthday, so perhaps his confusion is understandable.

He signed on to play football at Pitt, then left and said he wanted to go to UCLA. Supposedly he wanted to come back to Pitt, and coach Paul Chryst said, no thanks.

Chryst had no choice. If a player chooses to leave the program, that’s his right. But don’t expect the staff to extend a welcome to return.

Pitt insiders say that Shell had some problems adapting to the rules. That can be a tough transition for a freshman.

Someone likened the process to that of courtship and marriage: The pursuit is all sunshine and roses. Things change after the commitment is made.

Short-term, Pitt could use a running back with Shell’s talent. But the bigger view is that Chryst needs to establish some order in the program.

In this case, that includes rejecting Shell’s request to return.

Mehno can be reached at