Gerrit Cole ready to lead All-Star Yankees rotation to a new level

Ace Gerrit Cole is seen with a young fan at the 2023 Yankees spring training camp, Tampa, FL.
Sara Molnick
Saturday March 4, 2023

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Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is finally getting a taste of what normal life is like in pinstripes. And their best pitcher is ready for it as the leader of an All-Star rotation.

This will be Gerrit Cole’s fourth year with the Yankees. In his first game, the Yankees lost to the Tigers 5-3 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on Friday night. However, it was his first “normal” spring training with the team. In three scoreless innings, he gave up only one hit, struck out four batters, and hit 99 mph with his fastest pitch.

Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees in 2019. But 16 weeks later, there was shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. MLB could start only in late July and that too the first of 60 games with no fans in the stands.

COVID was still out there in 2021, which led to talks of a delay and, eventually, a new spring schedule that cut down on travel and opened the regular season with smaller stadiums. The 2022 spring season also started late because of a lockout caused by tense labor talks between MLB and MLBPA, which pushed the first game to March 18.

During his time with the Yankees, the 32-year-old has had to make a lot of changes. Midway through the 2021 season, MLB punished pitchers who used foreign substances to get a better grip on the ball. This was in addition to the delays caused by the pandemic and then by labor disputes.

“It’s so hard to grip the ball,” Gerrit Cole complained in June of 2021. “It’s part of the reason why almost every player on the field, regardless if they’re a pitcher or not, help them control the ball. I don’t have a solution, but again, we are aligned in a lot of areas with the commissioner’s office on this. Please just talk to us, please just work with us.

“We’ve been living in a grey area for so long, I wouldn’t just hate to see players get hurt. I’d hate to see balls come flying at players’ heads.”

In 2023, Gerrit Cole’s spring schedule is finally clear, and he’s had plenty of time to get used to MLB’s new rules about using substances to grip the ball.

With so much talent around him in the starting rotation, the California native is also going into this season without much experience. Gerrit Cole is in charge of what is arguably the best starting rotation in MLB. Behind him in the rotation are three All-Stars: Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and the newly signed Carlos Rodon.

“I first met Carlos a handful of years ago, working out,” Gerrit Cole told on February 16. “I was struck by just his raw strength and intensity. And I think everyone’s kind of get to see that a little bit more as he continues to take the mound over and over again and progress and get stronger and settle into his career.”

“Just talking to him a few times since he’s been signed and since we’ve been down here [Tampa], some of those things I mentioned are still there. And I think that he’s in a position to keep getting better and hopefully for us get a lot better.”

Gerrit Cole is going to be in charge of three pitchers who might have done better than he did during the regular season of 2022. The right-handed power pitcher had an up-and-down year, with a 3.50 ERA in 33 starts.

Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes are first and third on the Yankees rotation.

His kryptonite was the long ball, which got him 33 times, which was the most in the league. However, the veteran didn’t seem worried earlier in the spring about being prone to homers.

“Part of it is my style,” Gerrit Cole said. “I don’t walk many guys. I throw strikes with all of my pitches. Part of what makes me great is my low walk rate. There’s a pretty good chance that when you face me, I’m going to be in the strike zone. If you get a pitch to hit and you put a really good swing on it, sometimes those balls will go out. It’s not like I’m going to give up zero home runs this year. I’m always going to give up a certain amount of home runs.”

Gerrit Cole, on the other hand, overcame all of his regular-season mishaps with a great playoff effort. In his three playoff starts in the ALDS against the Guardians and the ALCS against the Astros, the righty allowed only six runs in 18.1 innings.

His most notable playoff performance occurred in Game 4 against the Cleveland, when the Yankees were on the verge of elimination, when Gerrit Cole pitched a brave seven innings, giving just two runs and striking out eight hitters at Progressive Field.

As the ace enters his fourth season in pinstripes, there are no excuses to point to — presuming the newly implemented pitch clock has no influence on his performance — as breaking the Astros’ curse and the Yankees’ 13-year World Series drought is at the top of the Gerrit Cole’s must-do list.

The King is back

On Friday night, Michael King was back on the mound. The right-handed pitcher threw two innings in which no runs were scored. He struck out four of the six batters he faced and gave up no base runners.

The 27-year-old stepped on the slab for the first time since he broke his elbow on July 22 of last season, which put an end to his breakout season. Last season, the man from Rochester had a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances.

King is likely to have another important role in the upcoming season. But Aaron Boone is still thinking about how to use the type of starter that looks like a Swiss Army knife.

“Quite a bit of talk and debate about what’s the best way to use [King]?” Boone said at George M Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 15. “It’s that multi-inning role out of the bullpen every few days where you essentially give some high-leverage guys days off. Is he part of the short stint, one-inning guys at the back of the bullpen?

“How we best use him and he how he fits into the bullpen will be something we probably have a lot of talks and debate out.”

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