Cole activated off IL for start tonight vs. O's

June 19th, 2024

After missing the entire season to this point with a right elbow injury, Yankees ace was activated off the 60-day injured list to start Wednesday's game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

Cole looked sharp in his third Minor League rehab start on Friday, striking out 10 over 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Rochester, allowing one run (unearned) on two hits with no walks. He topped out at 97.8 mph, a hair over his 96.7 mph average four-seamer velocity from the 2023 season.

Cole is not yet built up to a full workload, but the Yankees still feel the time is right for the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner to return to a big league mound.

"This is still part of a process for him," said Yankees bench coach Brad Ausmus, filling in for manager Aaron Boone for the series opener against Baltimore with Boone attending his son's high school graduation. "He's not at full strength yet. But the medical staff and the coaching staff feel like he's certainly strong enough to make a start up here.

"But there's gonna be watchful eyes on him. Because we certainly want Gerrit Cole for the entire season. But this is a great first step, because we need him back in the rotation, and it's good to have him here."

Cole underwent an MRI on March 11 after relaying difficulty bouncing back between his spring outings, likening his level of fatigue to what he usually would feel after throwing 100 pitches during the regular season. He had more testing performed on March 12, then visited Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on March 14. ElAttrache confirmed that there was no damage to Cole’s ulnar collateral ligament.

One might have thought that starting pitching would be a weakness for the Yankees early in the 2024 season as a result, but the outcome has been anything but. New York has an MLB-best 50-24 record, largely due to the team’s MLB-low 3.38 runs per game allowed. Led by rookie sensation Luis Gil, plus Carlos Rodón’s return to form after a rough 2023 season, the Yankees’ starting pitching has particularly stood out, leading MLB with a 2.90 ERA and a meager .213 batting average allowed.

Yankees starting pitchers have thrown at least four innings in all 74 of the team’s games this season, a record-setting streak for the legendary franchise at any point of a season (let alone to begin a season). Particularly notable was the span from May 12-29, when New York had 16 consecutive games in which its starting pitcher threw at least five innings while allowing two or fewer runs -- the longest such streak by any team since at least 1893, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Cole led the AL in innings pitched (209), ERA (2.63) and WHIP (0.98) during his unanimous Cy Young-winning season last year and was ranked by MLB Network as the game’s top starting pitcher entering the 2024 season. If he’s able to quickly return to form, he will slide in nicely for a rotation that recently lost Clarke Schmidt (5-3, 2.52 ERA) to the IL with a lat strain.

The Yankees will get an immediate test of Cole’s readiness in a high-stakes contest on Wednesday. With a 47-24 record, the Orioles are just 1 1/2 games back of the Yanks in the AL East. Led by the likes of young stars Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg, Baltimore leads MLB with 5.13 runs per game, giving Cole the farthest thing possible from a "tune-up game."

"The main thing is, you want to get him through it healthy," Ausmus said. "Certainly we want to win the game. Winning is what the goal is at the Major League level -- it's not so much development, it's winning. But with Gerrit Cole, I think the big picture is, we want him the entire year. And this is another step in returning him to full Gerrit Cole Cy Young form."