PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole's first start since Independence Day originally looked like it may go the route of his teammates in the first two games against the hot-hitting Braves. But he settled in, retired 12 consecutive hitters at one point and put his team in a position to snap its seven-game losing streak in Wednesday night's 3-2 win.
The right-hander threw a sharp seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits, while striking out six and walking four. Cole was pitching in a Pirates' uniform after missing more than a month because of a sore right lat.
Cole didn't look rusty. Rather, he was dominant for a stretch and sat down a dozen Braves hitters in a row after they combined to put up 15 runs against Pittsburgh starters in the first two games of the series.
"I got shaky at times, but for the most part, we were able to execute pitches when we needed to," Cole said. "It wasn't the most comfortable game to go into, especially after both of our starters got beat up and they're beat up right now, and not knowing what you're going to get not pitching in a Major League game in a while. I knew it was going to be a grind."
In the first, Cole walked leadoff man Jason Heyward, who advanced 90 feet on a Freddie Freeman single with one out. Justin Upton then sent a chopper up the middle -- a ball Cole said he was "apprehensive" on and was weary of deflecting it and ruining a double play. Instead, the ball got through the infield and gave the Braves a 1-0 lead.
With trouble brewing, Cole got Chris Johnson to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, and the No. 1 pick of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft walked to the dugout pounding his glove and limiting the damage.
"Understand that things didn't go our way on the ground ball from Upton, but just keep trying to pound and hopefully one of those ground balls will go to somebody," Cole said. "We got it right to [Jordy] Mercer and we turned a nice double play."
The 23-year-old was again aided out of a jam by his defense in the sixth. The top of the Braves order loaded the bases thanks to a Heyward double and two walks (one intentional to Freeman). Cole got ahead of Johnson 0-2 and put his third pitch where he wanted it, but Johnson lifted it into right field for a base hit.
Heyward scored easily, but Freeman was cut off at home by an on-the-money throw from right fielder Travis Snider. Cole struck out Evan Gattis to end the sixth, and didn't allow a hit in the seventh, ending his night with 97 pitches.
"He had four pitches to go to tonight, very efficient work," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Really good to see him out on the mound."
A start like Cole's was something the Pirates needed, as they came from behind for a walk-off win. And they'll continue to need him as September draws near.
"When he gets ahead of the count, they're at his mercy," said fellow Pirates starter Vance Worley, whose only other two viewings of Cole were ones where he was either coming off or going on the DL.
"Yeah. I haven't had a chance to see him healthy. And today, it was impressive. He gave up those two runs, and went deep, kept us in the game."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.