Boone back with Yanks; Cole throws live BP

March 7th, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. -- As pumped strikes on Field 1 of the Yankees' player development complex in the rain on Saturday morning, the right-hander was pleased to see one observer in particular: manager Aaron Boone.

Boone returned to his duties as the Yankees' skipper on Saturday, saying that he feels "great" following surgery this week to implant a pacemaker. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and pinstriped uniform pants, Boone peered through a chain-link fence to watch his ace fire two innings of live batting practice.

"It's good to come watch Gerrit Cole pitch; that's always a good way to get back into it," said Boone, who then traveled to Bradenton, Fla., where he planned to manage Saturday's exhibition against the Pirates.

Boone was cleared to resume managerial activities after passing his COVID-19 intake screening, having been tested in the George M. Steinbrenner Field parking lot before Friday's game. Cole said that it was "a nice surprise" to spot Boone milling in the area behind home plate.

"I thought he was going to be able to get in here [Sunday], but he got in a day early," Cole said. "It’s good to see him back and feeling good.”

The 48-year-old Boone said that he struggled with lightheadedness, low energy and shortness of breath over the past two months, revealing this week that his heart rate sometimes dipped lower than 40 beats per minute. Boone had open-heart surgery in 2009 for a congenital defect.

“I’m really excited to get back,” Boone said. “I just want to extend my gratitude to everyone. I’ve heard from so many people the last couple of days. That’s been really touching and humbling. I’m just really appreciative of that.”

Drip drop
Cole had initially been scheduled to start Saturday’s game against the Pirates, but forecasts of inclement weather prompted the Yankees to ask if he preferred to stay behind instead. Cole tossed about 50 pitches over two innings of live batting practice at the Tampa facility, working with catcher Robinson Chirinos.

“It was good working with Robby; he brought some energy today,” Cole said. “He was loud, always having fun, smiling. We threw a good mix. I just focused mostly on attacking hitters today, attacking the strike zone. I thought we got ourselves in good leverage, which allowed me to be a little more aggressive in the corners in some situations. It helped me get some feel. It was good.”

Boone said that he thought Cole’s slider looked good and that Cole appeared to have strong feel and command of his fastball. Cole said that his focus was on making sure that his mechanics felt sharp and his body responded well.

“It’s so important to get out of the gates physically in a good spot,” Cole said. “The games are important in April and we’re trying to win, but there is the summer to settle into the most important games we play at the end of the year. Whatever hitters are telling you is the truth … you're always looking for positive attributes in your pitches, whether it be deception or extra break. The hitters will let you know based on the types of swings that they're taking.”

On a mission
Gary Sánchez has performed well in the early weeks of camp, slugging two homers and earning praise from the coaching staff for his efforts behind the plate. Boone traces Sánchez’s defensive improvements to his offseason workouts, which took place in January.

“I feel like there’s a confidence in the work he’s doing,” Boone said. “I feel like he’s helped drive a lot of his work; not to say that wasn’t there in the past, but there’s a real businesslike way he’s going about things. He looks really at ease and comfortable behind the plate. I feel like he’s continuing to grow and mature. I’m excited about what he’s going to do for us.”

Back to business
With Boone’s return, Carlos Mendoza shifted back into his day-to-day responsibilities as the Bombers’ bench coach, which involves scheduling most aspects of Major League Spring Training. General manager Brian Cashman believes that Mendoza, who interviewed for the Red Sox and Tigers managerial vacancies this past offseason, has the makings of a future big league skipper.

“Carlos is extremely talented, extremely organized, bilingual; the players trust him,” Cashman said. “He’s a superior candidate for the next chair within the industry. We’re fortunate right now that he’s here, and he’s served us well every step of the way in every capacity he served us. I don’t know if anybody works harder than Carlos Mendoza.”

Bombers bits
• Right-hander Clarke Schmidt (right elbow strain) is into his third week without throwing. Boone said that Schmidt is no longer showing symptoms and is about one week from resuming throwing.

• Right-hander Luis Severino (recovery from Tommy John surgery) could pitch off a mound next week, Boone said. Severino has been throwing at distances up to 120 feet on flat ground.

• The Yankees plan to assemble their entire team beginning on Tuesday. Due to social distancing measures, most pitchers and catchers have been working out at the club’s player development complex, approximately a half-mile from George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Up next
Left-hander Jordan Montgomery is scheduled to make his second spring start on Sunday as the Yankees host the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Zack Wheeler is set to pitch for Philadelphia. The game can be seen on MLB Network and the YES Network and heard on WFAN.