CHICAGO -- Gerrit Cole spent much of Spring Training forcing the Pirates to imagine how special he could be as a big league pitcher.
Imagination will make way for realization Tuesday night, when Cole will make his Major League debut, starting at PNC Park against the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum.
"We considered all the internal options and felt his development is where we hoped it would be," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said following Saturday's 6-2 win against the Cubs. "This opportunity presented itself. It wasn't forced, it wasn't manufactured. It's just the right time."
Catcher Russell Martin, who in March was already looking ahead to one day catching Cole, can't wait.
"Cool," Martin said, informed Cole's impending promotion was confirmed. "I caught him a couple of times in Spring Training, and I like his makeup and his attitude. In my opinion, he's going to be a good pitcher for a long time, so this will be start No. 1 of a hopefully long and prosperous career."
The Pirates made the highly anticipated move for their top prospect official just prior to the start of Saturday's game against the Cubs.
Cole is expected to meet the club in Pittsburgh when it returns following Sunday's finale at Wrigley Field, the end of a six-game road trip. The Pirates will have to make a move to clear space on their 40-man roster for Cole, who is 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Wandy Rodriguez's complaints of elbow tightness before and during his Wednesday start in Atlanta opened the opportunity for Cole's promotion.
Cole thus will take his big league bow a few days after the second anniversary of his selection as the overall No. 1 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
He will oppose a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner in the Giants' Lincecum. And if he stays in the rotation, Cole's second turn would come on Sunday -- against the Dodgers and their former Cy Young Award winner, lefty Clayton Kershaw.
"It'll be nice to see what he brings to the table," Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage said. "I look forward to it, as I know he is. He's going to be geeked, there's no way around it. We'll let it play out, and go from there."
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound UCLA product posted a 14-10 Minor League record, with a 2.84 ERA in 38 starts and 183 strikeouts in 200 innings.
In the view of some, his debut is already overdue. That camp might include Cole, who was both surprised and disappointed when the Bucs cut him from their preseason camp after he allowed four runs in 10 Grapefruit League innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. He also totaled five scoreless innings in a pair of B-game starts.
He did not depart, however, without leaving an impression -- particularly on the veteran who will likely catch him Tuesday night.
"He's really good," Martin had said in March. "I've caught some really good ones, and I've been impressed -- with his stuff, his demeanor, his makeup on the mound. Stuff-wise, he has an electric arm and he knows how to use it."
At the time, Hurdle settled for just calling him "an obvious game-changer."
"He's freakin' good. If he's not the best, he's right up there," Martin had added. "He can really pitch. There'll be a learning curve there, learning how to deal with adversity, but I would not be surprised if that kid is one of the best in the game -- soon."
"Soon" arrives at the shores of the Allegheny River on Tuesday night.
As for how long it stays, neither Hurdle nor general manager Neal Huntington would -- or could -- be definitive. Cole's debut will come on the same night James McDonald makes a rehab start for Indianapolis, opening up the possibility of the veteran bumping Cole when he is deemed ready.
"We'll just let [Cole] pitch and go from there," Hurdle said.
In a text message to reporters, Huntington simply said that the club "will see how the situation develops and adjust accordingly."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less