Cole on possible June return: 'I wouldn't rule it out'

AL Cy feels so good he has to dial down velocity in first Yankee Stadium mound session

May 22nd, 2024

NEW YORK -- The assignment was to throw 20 pitches, mostly fastballs, from the mound -- a workload that would take place approximately 3 1/2 hours before game time on a Tuesday afternoon. eyed the full pinstriped uniform in his locker, opting to dress as though it were Opening Day.

“Because I missed it,” Cole said. “I feel really happy that I was able to put it on.”

In a way, this did represent the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner’s season opener -- or at least, a significant step in getting there.

Facing teammates Oswaldo Cabrera and Jahmai Jones, Cole took another significant step in his recovery from a spring elbow injury by tossing from the Yankee Stadium mound for the first time this year.

In fact, the session almost went a bit too well. Cole’s fastball was clocked as high as 96 mph, which prompted pitching coach Matt Blake to chastise him from behind a screen set up on the infield, warning the ace right-hander to ease off.

“I had to dial the fastball back, which is a good sign,” Cole said. “I thought the sliders were sharp, the curveballs. Everything was really sharp except for the changeup, which was just a little pushed beneath the zone. But we worked the fastball up and down well. The spin was pretty good.

“ … Sometimes you don’t realize it comes out quite so hot. I wasn’t intending to throw it 96. It’s a good sign.”

Sidelined in March due to nerve irritation and edema in his pitching elbow, Cole has been throwing from a mound since May 4 and said that he is pain-free.

Cole said he threw two curveballs, three changeups, two sliders and two cutters. He expects another one or two live batting practice sessions before being cleared to begin a Minor League rehab assignment. Manager Aaron Boone said Cole will return to Tampa, Fla., during the Yanks’ West Coast trip that begins Friday in San Diego.

Asked if he considers a June return to the big league rotation a realistic goal, Cole replied: “I wouldn’t rule it out.”

“I guess it’s possible. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in this and start predicting,” Boone said. “Things are going well, and that was another big step. He’ll probably have another couple of these, and then we start to build from there.”

As Boone alluded, the Yankees have been secretive regarding their plans to reinstate Cole, careful not to set a firm timetable. But there is clearly curiosity, and not just outside the organization. Many of Cole’s teammates altered their pregame routine to watch from the first-base dugout.

“I walked out there and was like, ‘Whoa, OK,’” Boone said. “Not surprising, considering who it is. But, yeah, there was a little anticipation.”

On some level, the Yankees’ excellent starting pitching thus far has helped to distract Cole, who has taken to serving as an auxiliary pitching coach.

Over the club’s past eight games entering play Tuesday night, Bombers starters have gone 7-0 with an 0.86 ERA, with Marcus Stroman picking up a no-decision in a 7 1/3-inning gem on Monday night

“If we were really struggling, then you’d be challenged with having not to feel like you need to rush back,” Cole said. “I obviously don’t have that. I don’t feel like I need to rush it back. Whether they were performing well or not, you try to stick to that [plan], but there’s definitely not any impending outside pressure.”