Cole-Wells tandem, Cortes fire up Yankees in first live BP session

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and rookie catcher Austin Wells in the 2024 spring training.

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Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole kicked off his spring training in familiar fashion, showcasing impressive control and precision during his first live batting practice session on Wednesday afternoon.

Taking the mound at Steinbrenner Field’s primary diamond, the Yankees rotation leader threw 36 pitches, displaying his characteristic form. He meticulously executed his pitches, expressing personal satisfaction with both placement and selection throughout the session.

This early glimpse at Cole suggests he’s maintaining the form that earned him the league’s top pitching honor last season. While spring training doesn’t guarantee regular season success, his focused and confident performance is an encouraging sign for Yankees fans hoping for a repeat performance in 2024.

Cole remarked that there were only two non-competitive pitches out of the 36 he threw, which he considered a positive outcome. The Yankees ace simulated the equivalent of two innings while facing a group comprising Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu (who hit a hard single to left field in his initial at-bat), Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Volpe.

Aaron Boone commented that the cutter performed well, along with a well-executed changeup and a properly executed breaking ball. The Yankees skipper noted that Cole’s slider, which had been slow to progress, appeared notably improved. He also observed that Cole demonstrated good command of his fastball, consistently reaching the mid-90s and placing it where he intended. Overall, Boone described Cole’s performance as sharp.

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Rookie Wells impresses in Yankees spring training

Nobody was surprised by Gerrit Cole‘s dominant performance in his first live batting practice session of spring training. Known for his meticulous preparation and demanding standards, the Yankees ace consistently delivered elite pitching, even in early spring outings like Wednesday’s. His health remains a positive note, but perhaps the most intriguing development was the performance of 24-year-old rookie catcher Austin Wells.

With Yankees starting catcher Jose Trevino sidelined by a calf strain for at least two weeks, Wells has a golden opportunity to impress and potentially claim the starting role. Building a strong connection with the demanding ace, known for his high standards for catchers, would be crucial for Wells’ chances.

Early reports suggest Wells is making a strong case. Cole praised his intelligence and highlighted his potential. While the Yankees rookie didn’t catch Cole during his September 2023 call-up, he attentively observed Cole’s pitching during that period, even though Ben Rortvedt handled all starts after Trevino’s injury. This prior exposure could prove valuable as Wells competes for the starting catcher role.

Cole remarked that he found Wells’ game-calling to be exceptional right from the start, referring to the rookie’s performance during a three-game Yankees sweep of the Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 1-3.

Wells catches eyes, builds rapport with Cole

Wells expressed that one of his priorities coming into the spring was to establish a “relationship” with the 33-year-old Yankees ace.

The catcher remarked that he believed it had been a positive experience catching Cole for the first two or three times, noting that he had previously caught the Yankees ace in the bullpen. He expressed anticipation for future opportunities.

The Yankees‘ first-round pick in 2020, was initially known for his defensive prowess in the minor leagues. While he didn’t catch Cole in 2023, the rookie reportedly impressed several pitchers with his catching skills last September, including Cole. Interestingly, Wells took the initiative to build a rapport with the Yankees ace despite their lack of on-field experience together.

Wells actively engaged with Cole, observing his pitching sessions and seeking insights into his preferred pitch sequences and decision-making. This proactive approach demonstrates his intelligence and willingness to learn.

Yankees rookie catcher Austin Wells at Tampa spring training camp in Feb 2024.
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Cole’s recent praise of Wells’ game-calling resonated deeply with the rookie. Wells acknowledged the positive impact on his confidence and attributed his growing trust to their increasing collaboration. The Yankees catcher emphasized their partnership as mutually beneficial, aiming to support Cole while gaining valuable guidance. Wells’ dedication to building trust and strengthening their communication suggests a promising future for the young catcher.

Trevino, who served as Cole’s main catcher last year until he suffered a season-ending injury in July due to a torn ligament in his right wrist, is anticipated to be fully recovered for Opening Day. Consequently, he remains the top contender to start behind the plate on March 28 in Houston. However, Wells’ positive impression on Cole holds significance for the Yankees despite this.

Cole mentioned that he doesn’t expect it to require much effort to develop a good rapport with Wells, stating that the rookie is well-prepared.

Cortes fires up Yankees

Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes, known for his unorthodox delivery and impressive strikeout abilities, faced a key test on Tuesday during live batting practice. However, rather than dwelling on his success in striking out star outfielder Juan Soto three times, Cortes’ focus shifted to the following day: his physical recovery.

Cortes, a crucial member of the Yankees’ rotation, battled shoulder and rotator cuff issues throughout the 2023 season. This experience has instilled a cautious approach, leading him to prioritize evaluating his physical response after facing top hitters on the main field, with the added pressure of a fan audience.

Yankees manager Boone echoed Cortes’ concern, acknowledging the importance of monitoring the pitcher’s well-being post-session. Both Cortes and Boone understand that while facing high-caliber hitters like Soto is important, maintaining optimal physical health remains paramount for a successful season.

With a smile during his Wednesday interview with SNY, Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes expressed optimism about his physical recovery following Tuesday’s live batting practice session. “Everything feels good,” he stated, describing it as “It’s a big step.”

Nestor Cortes is pitching to Juan Soto in a live BP session at Yankees' spring camp on February 20, 2024.
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Cortes, known for his 90-92 mph fastball and effective offspeed pitches, showcased sharpness during the Yankees live BP session. He reportedly targeted Juan Soto’s hands with well-placed fastballs and used offspeed pitches effectively away from the zone.

These encouraging signs come after a 2023 season where shoulder and rotator cuff issues impacted Cortes’ performance. Now, he appears to be meeting all the necessary criteria for a full return to the Yankees’ rotation. His ultimate goal? To regain his All-Star form from the 2022 season.

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