Cole returns to Yanks without skipping a beat, K's 5 in loss to O's

June 20th, 2024

NEW YORK -- All eyes were on on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium -- and for good reason.

After missing 2 1/2 months of action because of right elbow discomfort, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner made his season debut against the Orioles in the Yankees’ 7-6, 10-inning loss.

Cole said “it felt nice” to be back on a Major League mound. The last time he played in a regular-season game was last Sept. 27 against the Blue Jays, when he pitched a shutout.

Cole was slated to be the Opening Day starter against the Astros on March 28 in Houston, but his season was delayed because of the elbow injury. Instead, teammate Nestor Cortes received the nod. Cole didn’t exactly disappear while he was on the injured list. He was always seen in the dugout as a cheerleader and advisor to the pitching staff.

“It was kind of a special game for me a little bit,” Cole said about Wednesday’s outing. “It has been a long few months, a lot of emotions. I wasn’t too sure how I was going to feel out there, but locating the ball quells the nerves a little bit.”

Cole held his own, pitching four-plus innings, allowing two runs on three hits and striking out five. His fastball was clocked as high as 97.5 mph. Cole threw 62 pitches, 41 for strikes.

Baltimore scored early on New York’s ace. After Gunnar Henderson led off the game with a double, he scored on a double by Ryan O’Hearn. Cole then retired 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced.

Cole's most impressive inning was the third. After fanning Jorge Mateo with an 88.9 mph slider, Cole walked Hernderson before fanning Adley Rutschman on a knuckle curve and Ryan Mountcastle on a cutter.

With the score tied at 1, Cole left the game in the top of the fifth inning after allowing a leadoff single to Cedric Mullins. He was replaced by right-hander Ron Marinaccio, who allowed a two-run homer to Ramón Urías and an RBI double to O’Hearn.

“I thought Gerrit was good. I thought he got better as he went [along],” manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought he did a good job in the third inning with that runner on second and you are kind of [facing] the meat of the order. He kind of slowed the game down really well. He was really under control. He started to get the strikeout ball a little there.”

Boone thought Cole started to get tired by the fourth inning, but Cole was strong enough to give him an inning-plus.

“For the most part, the location was good. I felt like the pitches were crisp,” Cole said. “The consistency probably has to progress as well with the pitch count. There might be give and take as we keep going. We threw a great slider in a big spot. That’s encouraging.

“For the most part, I made some good pitches when we needed to make some pitches. There was a fair amount of adrenaline, which is nice to have. A few too many high fastballs, but for the most part, it was a good jolt.”

Cole is one of only three reigning Cy Young Award winners -- Pete Vuckovich (132nd game in 1983 due to a torn rotator cuff) and Denny McLain (72nd game in 1970 due to a suspension for ties to gambling) -- to make their season debut 50-plus games into a season.

A healthy Cole is now part of a pitching staff that is arguably the best in baseball. New York has an MLB-best 51-25 record, largely due to the team’s MLB-low 3.41 runs per game allowed.

It helps that rookie Luis Gil has stepped in to fill Cole’s spot in the rotation. Gil has been a revelation with a 2.03 ERA through 14 starts, and Carlos Rodón is starting to look more like the pitcher he was with the White Sox and Giants in 2021 and ‘22. Rodón is currently 9-3 with a respectable 3.28 ERA.

Now with Cole back in the mix, look for the Yankees’ rotation to be even better as Cole’s arm gets stronger.