'An unreal pitcher,' Cole dialing it up of late

May 19th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- The most dominant stretch of Gerrit Cole’s latest outing came in the fourth and fifth innings, when the ace showcased his arsenal by striking out five consecutive batters -- three looking. It also served as a snapshot of his performance over the past five starts.

Since picking up his first win on April 24, Cole has pitched to a 1.67 ERA. It is no coincidence that the Yankees have won each of those outings and 19 of 22 overall over that span, including their 3-2 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday evening at Camden Yards.

“I think we’re just getting some traction, making some good pitches and stringing some good deliveries together from start to start,” Cole said. “I was able to get through the seventh tonight, which is nice. I’m still working on keeping the pitch count down, but tonight we were in a good spot.”

Cole opened his third season as a Yankee with a trio of efforts that clocked beneath his expectations, accepting no-decisions against the Red Sox (April 8), Blue Jays (April 13) and Tigers (April 19). That last start in Detroit was the roughest, as he walked five and failed to complete the second inning, exiting with a 6.35 ERA.

It also proved to be a turning point for Cole, who bounced back with 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Guardians in his next outing, striking out nine. Cole held the O’s to two runs over seven innings on Wednesday and has permitted just 26 hits over his last 32 1/3 innings, walking five against 39 strikeouts.

“He was knocking on the door of these outings even in those [first three] ones, and now I just think he’s starting to put it together and get on a good roll,” manager Aaron Boone said.

At 28-9, the Yankees are off to their best 37-game start since 1998, a season in which the Bombers won 114 games and defeated the Padres in a World Series sweep. New York has won its last nine series.

“Tonight we won on baserunning and defense, and we’re the Bronx Bombers,” Cole said. “I think a common theme of some of the good teams I’ve played on, including this one, is that you want to get after the baseball on every pitch. Collectively as a group, we’re not taking very many pitches off.”

The Yankees provided Cole with a near-instant lead, bringing home three first-inning runs against Jordan Lyles. Gleyber Torres doubled in Anthony Rizzo and a wild pitch skittered away from catcher Anthony Bemboom, permitting both Josh Donaldson and Torres to score on a daring play.

Cole had support, though he surely didn’t expect that it would be all the Yankees could muster. Right fielder Marwin Gonzalez made a pair of nice defensive plays early to help Cole proceed scorelessly until the sixth, when Austin Hays doubled home Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini knocked in Hays on a fielder’s choice.

“The defense picked us up early, and I started stringing together a lot of good, executed pitches,” Cole said. “If you just keep executing pitches, that ends up putting yourself in a good spot.”

After that, Cole retired the next five batters, completing his six-hit effort at 97 pitches.

“I think he’s been great,” catcher Jose Trevino said. “He had a couple of hiccups there in the beginning, but I feel like he’s settled in. I think he’s dialed in. He’s an unreal pitcher, but when he gets up there, he’s a competitor and he gets after it.”

On Wednesday, Cole leaned mostly on his four-seam fastball, throwing 56 heaters and generating eight swings and misses. He also got five whiffs on the cutter, which he threw 13 times, and two on the slider, which he used 19 times.

“The fastball command just kept getting better and better as we got through the night,” Cole said.

With Aroldis Chapman fatigued, Clay Holmes secured his third career save by recording the final six outs -- with help from a sterling defensive play by Rizzo, an unassisted double play that ended the eighth inning.

“We’re giving our best effort and obviously we have a lot of talent,” Cole said. “The combination of those two things is why we’re in the position we’re in.”