Cook finds rhythm, consistency a winning recipe

Cook finds rhythm, consistency a winning recipe
June 30, 2012, 6:01 am
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SEATTLE -- On Thursday night, Felix Hernandez manhandled the Red Sox, limiting them to five hits -- all singles -- while striking out 13, trying a career high.

Friday night, Aaron Cook recorded just two strikeouts and didn't have a single swing-and-miss all night. Yet, at the end of the night, he had the exact same result as Hernandez: a complete-game shutout.

Different strokes for different folks.

Cook wasn't overpowering, but he got the Seattle Mariners to continually hit balls into the ground, recording 15 of the 27 outs on the ground, thanks to a highly effective sinker.

He needed just 81 pitches to record his 27 outs, an average of exactly three pitches per out, a ratio that most pitchers would be highly envious of. And of the 81 pitches he threw, 73 were sinkers.

Why mess with success?

"I got in a really good rhythm early,'' said Cook, 2-1. "I was commanding the ball down in the zone and I knew they were being aggressive, so I was really just trying to command the ball in the bottom of the zone and guys were playing great defense behind me.''

Cook didn't throw more than six pitches in a single at-bat all night as he recorded his third career shutout. He continually got ahead early and claimed an advantage of a Seattle lineup that was shutout for the 10th time this season.

"When you're throwing strikes early and getting them early,'' said Cook, "it definitely makes a world of difference. They're not getting comfortable at-bats and I was able to really pound the zone early and keep them swinging at the pitches I wanted them to swing at.''

The 81 pitches represents the fewest number of pitches thrown by a Red Sox starter since at least 1988.

He retired the side in order in the first, second, third, fifth, seventh and ninth innings, while getting double plays in the fourth and eighth. Only in the sixth inning, when Mike Aviles bobbled the transfer on a grounder behind second to open the inning, did Cook face more than three Seattle hitters.

"I'm the type of pitcher where I know I'm not going to have a bunch of strikeouts,'' said Cook, "and I just really want to pound the zone early (in the count) and not let them get comfortable. Usually, that's a good recipe for a low-pitch game.''

The start was the 209th of his career, and Cook, upon reflection, judged it to be his best to date.

"I think so,'' said Cook. "Looking back (at two other shutouts), this was quickest I've worked and I was definitely more efficient, so, it's probably one of the top ones.''

"He had his sinker going from the first pitch of the game,'' said Bobby Valentine, "and he was throwing it over the heart of the plate and they were swinging at it and putting the ball in play and the defense was doing everything he needed behind him. It was a great performance.''

In the first two games of this West Coast trip, the Red Sox have gotten 16 scoreless innings from two starters who weren't part of their rotation only two weeks ago.

"We've got some competition going on around here,'' said Valentine. "You never have enough good pitching and I think we're building some competition and a staff where we can give the ball to any one of many guys and think we have a chance to win.''