Cole: Yanks 'thrilled, humbled' to open 2020

Montgomery to start July 29 vs. Phils; Chapman staying in shape in quarantine

July 23rd, 2020

The Yankees’ Acela Express train rumbled through the northeast corridor on Wednesday afternoon, bound for Union Station in Washington, D.C. peered out the window and admired the scenery, whizzing past at speeds greater than the 100 mph fastballs he plans to fire from the Nationals Park mound.

After going through the introductory news conference, a month of Spring Training and then Summer Camp, it would be a massive understatement to say that Cole is amped to finally have a chance to button a road-gray jersey with "NEW YORK" stitched across the chest and pitch for the Yankees in a game that counts.

“I'm stoked,” Cole said. “I'm already having trouble sleeping, I'm so excited. What a wonderful opportunity to lead the game into existence here in 2020. As a team, we're thrilled and we're humbled to have that honor.”

Opening Day brings Cole back to the scene of his most recent big league start, a victory over the Nationals in Game 5 of the World Series. Cole outpitched right-hander Joe Ross in that contest, a 7-1 Astros victory, and he is thrilled for the opportunity to face ace right-hander Max Scherzer in a reprise of the pitching matchup from World Series Game 1 (Washington took that one, 5-4).

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he envisions Cole throwing between 90 and 100 pitches in Thursday’s start, with Cole having been capped near 85 in his prior two intrasquad games. Cole called Scherzer “the ultimate competitor,” and Boone said that he will take a moment to appreciate the ace pairing.

“Knowing that they're kicking off our season, a unique season, one where we know there'll be so many eyes on it -- I think it'll be emotional,” Boone said. “I think it'll be emotional for sports fans being able to see baseball return and see that kind of marquee matchup. I absolutely have an appreciation for that, and hopefully we can go out and put on a good show.”

As his new teammates can attest after two weeks of uncomfortable Summer Camp at-bats, Cole should be no picnic for the defending champions. General manager Brian Cashman called Cole his “great white whale” after securing his services with a nine-year, $324 million contract, a time period during which Cole said he expected to bring multiple championships to The Bronx.

“It's been an amazing journey,” Cole said. “I feel really blessed to be able to be here and humbled to be on this team around such great talent. We’re grateful for the opportunity to be here, and we'll be able to find some excitement and some joy, because it's the game that we love.”

Splish splash
The Yankees had planned to hold a late-afternoon workout at Nationals Park on Wednesday, but heavy rain limited their activities to mostly take place indoors. As such, DJ LeMahieu was unable to take on-field at-bats, and Boone said that the Yanks are “still working through” the infielder’s availability for Opening Day.

“We'll do what we can underneath,” Boone said. “A couple of pitchers actually raced out to try and get a little bit of catch-play out on the field. Guys will play catch a little bit underneath. We have the cage down there, so guys will go in there and hit in the cage. We'll just kind of adapt.”

Looking ahead
Boone confirmed that left-hander Jordan Montgomery is scheduled to start the sixth game of the season, which will be the Yankees’ home opener against the Phillies on July 29. Though Montgomery was technically optioned to the team’s alternate training site, he is traveling with the team and is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Friday in order to prepare for that start.

By optioning Montgomery, the Yankees were able to carry catcher Chris Iannetta, left-hander Luis Avilán and right-hander David Hale, all of whom were added to the 40-man roster on Tuesday. Boone said that they liked the idea of carrying a veteran third catcher in Iannetta, and he views 31-year-old Avilán as an experienced reliever who can get both lefties and righties out with his changeup.

Time well spent
The Yanks’ three exhibition games against the Mets and Phillies offered a valuable preview of what the 60-game regular season will look and feel like, according to Boone, who said that the level of competition did not appear to suffer in the empty stadiums.

“I was surprised, for being an exhibition game, how immediately competitive it felt at 7 o'clock,” Boone said. “I do think there was something to be learned for our players to play in an empty stadium with crowd noise and effects that are different than what you're used to … to go through the routine of the day, how we talk with the media, how we eat our food, how we work out, how we get ready for the game.”

Waiting game
Aroldis Chapman has remained quarantined in New York since testing positive for COVID-19, according to Cashman, who said that the left-hander has yet to test negative. Chapman is experiencing mild symptoms at this time, though he recently posted several workout videos to Instagram. Boone has said that Zack Britton will take over as the closer in Chapman’s absence.

“We’re without our star closer, so the depth of this franchise is going to be tested once again, right out of the gate,” Cashman said. “We have a lot of players on this roster that are capable of a lot of different roles, more so than ever. We're going to be leaning on those players to step into roles that they're maybe not used to, but in this case, Zack Britton has obviously done this before.”

Up next
It’s Opening Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., as the Yankees and Nationals are scheduled to begin the regular season at 7:08 p.m. ET on Thursday. Cole and Scherzer comprise the pitching matchup, and Dr. Anthony Fauci is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch. The game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be heard in the New York area on WFAN and WADO.