Coming into Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit only 2 1/2 games back of he NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot. Pittsburgh has won three of their last four games and seem to be heading into the right direction. At least until now.

Ace right-hander Gerrit Cole will reportedly miss his next start and instead travel to Los Angeles to have his sore elbow looked at by a specialist.

Well that’s no good. These days we’re conditioned to think “Tommy John surgery!” whenever a pitcher feels the slightest twinge in his elbow, but that isn’t always the case. That said, even something minor like inflammation could sideline Cole several weeks.

usatsi9430429.jpgGerrit Cole will have his elbow checked out in the coming days. USATSI

Pittsburgh’s rotation, which was an issue for much of the season, has a rock solid 3.53 ERA this month. They’ve effectively replaced Jonathon Niese , Francisco Liriano , Jeff Locke , and Juan Nicasio with Chad Kuhl , Jameson Taillon , Ivan Nova , and Ryan Vogelsong in recent weeks.

Cole, however, had not been his typically dominant self the last few times out. His last four starts have not gone well at all:

Aug. 7vs. Cincinnati Reds5 2/3344360
Aug. 13@ Los Angeles Dodgers4 1/31265030
Aug. 19vs. Miami Marlins6 2/31233352
Aug. 24vs. Houston Astros5755141

That’s not the Gerrit Cole we’re used to seeing, meaning the guy who had a 2.60 ERA (148 ERA+) in 32 starts and 208 innings last season. Cole came into Saturday with a 3.55 ERA (117 ERA+) in 114 innings this season.

Cole has had some arm problems over the years, but never anything with his elbow. He missed time with right shoulder fatigue and right lat tightness in 2014, and with a triceps strain earlier this year.

Needless to say, losing Cole for any length of time is going to put a big dent in the Pirates’ postseason hopes. Losing him for even two or three starts would be bad.

Source: CBS Sports / Pirates ace Gerrit Cole reportedly heading for tests on sore elbow