The emergence of Gerrit Cole helped the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 21 years last season. Shelby Miller similarly boosted the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation.
The right-handers square off Friday in Pittsburgh with each looking to get their sophomore campaigns off to positive starts as their teams try to grab an early hold on the NL Central.
Cole enters 2014 with a winning streak to rouse from hibernation. The 23-year-old won his last four regular-season starts to complete his rookie year with a 10-7 record and 3.22 ERA in 19 starts.
He also got off to a hot start at the big-league level. Beginning with his June 11 debut, Cole became the first Pittsburgh pitcher in over a century to win his first four career starts.
His manager now wants to see him succeed through his first full season.
"That's a challenge. Sometimes, I think that gets pushed to the side," Clint Hurdle told the team's official website after one of Cole's spring starts. "People want to see bigger, better, faster, stronger. If he can compete and go out there for a full season, I think you'll see a number of things happen. ... But that would be the goal going in: Get him up, get him ready out of the blocks with us and be able to finish."
Miller wasn't far off Cole's late-season success with three wins in his last four starts before seeing limited postseason action in the St. Louis bullpen. His 15-9 regular-season record gave him more wins than any Cardinals rookie in 46 years, but none of them came against the Pirates. Miller went 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA in four starts against the team's Central rival, yielding a .319 batting average.
Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker went 5 for 9 with three doubles against Miller, while catcher Russell Martin went 3 for 7 with two home runs and a double off the rookie.
"I just made mistakes against them," Miller told the team's official website. "It's not really that I pitched badly. It just didn't go the way I wanted it to. ... I'm not worried about who I face first. If it was Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami Marlins, it's not a big deal to me. I'm just happy to get back out there and start pitching in games that count and try to help the team win."
Cole didn't face the Cardinals in the regular season but made two starts in the NLDS. He won Game 2 before taking the loss in Game 5 as the Cardinals eliminated the Pirates, but he ended the series with a 2.45 ERA and held St. Louis to a .132 average.
Despite the Cards bettering Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the overall 2013 series ended with 12 wins each and the Pirates holding an 8-4 advantage at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh (2-1) got off to a winning start there in its first series of the new season, but lost the finale 3-2 to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. The Pirates were held to seven runs in the series.
"We gotta keep working, connect some dots on offense better," said Hurdle, whose club hit .175 in the series.
Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 10 in the three-game set but drew five walks.
After scoring one run in their first two games, the Cardinals (2-1) woke up at the plate in their series finale in Cincinnati for a 7-6 victory. First-year Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta homered for his first hit with the club, while first baseman Matt Adams went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wasn't thrilled, though, as his team stranded eight.
"We had a lot of opportunities that we missed, too," Matheny said. "We had a lot of guys in scoring position."
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