Two unusual things happened during Gerrit Cole's start Monday night for the Curve.
From a performance standpoint, the prized prospect was extended to 110 pitches - the most of his young career - and battled as long as he could to help the pitching staff during the first game of a doubleheader.
The Pirates haven't often let Curve hurlers top 100 pitches in recent years, although Matt McSwain also logged 110 in a game earlier this season. Cole figured he was done after throwing 96 pitches in six innings, but Pirates pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell, who's filling in for Curve pitching coach Jeff Johnson, decided to send Cole back out for the seventh inning for the first time in his career.
"The thought was we could extend him a little bit and see where he's at, and [the ball] still was coming out good," manager P.J. Forbes said.
Cole battled control issues and some questionable ball-strike calls and walked six, elevating his pitch count. He ran into trouble in the seventh and departed after Akron loaded the bases with one out, then his defense let him down.
The Aeros took advantage of a key throwing error by third baseman Stefan Welch and scored three times in the seventh for a 4-1 win in game one of the doubleheader. Andrew Lambo hit a grand slam to lead the Curve to a 7-1 win in game two before 5,047 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Jameson Taillon was named Eastern League pitcher of the week on Monday after dominating in his first two Double-A starts.
Taillon went 2-0 and threw 11 scoreless innings, giving up just five hits with 13 strikeouts and no walks for the week. He pitched one-hit ball for six shutout innings Sunday against Richmond.
Cole allowed four runs, but none of them were earned as his defense committed three errors. He gave up six hits with four strikeouts and the six walks in 6 1/3 innings, and his fastball sat primarily between 96-99 mph, topping out at 101.
"I thought I was probably going to be finished [after six innings], and they said, 'Go finish it,'" said Cole, who added there was "probably some fatigue there" in the seventh.
Even more unusual was a scenario that took place after the top of second inning. Feeling like he was getting squeezed in the strike zone on close pitches, and after the final out of the inning, Cole walked up to umpire Joe Born and had a conversation near home plate for about 25-30 seconds.
Side conversations take place all the time in baseball, but this was right out in the open, with no one else on the field. People always wonder what pitching coaches and pitchers talk about during mound visits, and anyone paying attention to the scene surely wanted to know what was being said.
"With the pitch counts I've been on, I just needed to know what was going on," Cole said. "I felt like I was making good pitches. Coming in guys were saying I was making good pitches, Cabbie [catcher Ramon Cabrera] was saying I was making good pitches. So I just tried to get on the same page as him."
It's a fine line for a pitcher to do that because it can come across as confrontational and the umpire might feel like he's being shown up. Forbes, though, said Cole handled the situation "perfect."
"We actually had this discussion after [a recent game]," Forbes said. "[Cole] vocalized something [to the umpire] after he came to the dugout. And I said, 'Look, if you want to say something to the umpire, walk up to him and say, 'Where you got those at, are they missing by much?' As long as you're tactful in how you handle it."
Cole remained calm and handled the discussion professionally, covering his mouth with his glove so that no one could catch what he was saying.
"That was my first time doing that," Cole said. "I just asked him, I said, 'I'm making some good pitches. What do you think here?' He was like, 'Yeah, you are.' I was like, 'I've got a pitch count, so I'm just going to keep on making those pitches.' And he said, 'All right.'"
Had he blown up at the umpire or said something over the line, Cole could have been ejected.
"It's all in how you approach umpires," Forbes said. "If you go in confrontational, it's going to be confrontational. ... If Joe would have thought he was showing him up at all, he would have ended the discussion immediately."
Cole gave way to reliever Jeff Inman with the bases loaded in the seventh, then Thomas Neal hit a grounder to third. Welch tried coming home for a forceout, but his throw hit the runner, and two runs scored to give Akron a 3-1 lead. Another run came home on a sacrifice fly, with all four charged to Cole (3-6), albeit unearned.
Danna Salazar (4-0) won for Akron, and Preston Guilmet picked up his 23rd save.
The Curve scored twice in the first inning of game two and got the grand slam from Lambo in the second inning for a big lead early. Reliever Jason Townsend (2-0) pitched four innings of scoreless relief for the win, and Mike Rayl (0-1) took the loss.
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: RHP Danny Salazar gave up one run in six innings to win game one for Akron, and RF Andrew Lambo hit a grand slam in game two for the Curve.
Key play: 3B Stefan Welch's throwing error to the plate allowed Akron to score the go-ahead runs in game one, and Lambo's grand slam gave Altoona a big lead in game two.
Key stat: RHP Gerrit Cole threw 110 pitches, a career high, while pitching into the seventh inning for the first time in his career.
SUBHD: How they scored
Top 1st: Henry walked, scored on Cabrera error (0-1).
Bottom 5th: Cunningham singled, scored on Latimore single (1-1).
Top 7th: Hernandez singled, Henry singled, Welch error allows pinch-runner Stoneburner and Henry to score (1-3); Holt walked, scored on Chen sacrifice fly (1-4).
Bottom 1st: Santos singled, scored on Curry single (1-0); Lambo walked, scored on Latimore single (2-0).
Top 2nd: Chen singled, scored on Rohlinger sacrifice fly (2-1).
Bottom 2nd: Brown reached on Rayl error, Maggi singled, Santos walked, all three scored on Lambo grand slam (6-1).
Bottom 3rd: Cutler hit by pitch, scored on Brown single (7-1).