Gerrit Cole’s first live session hints at intense days ahead for the Yankees

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has his first live session against batters at Yankee Stadium on May 21, 2024 after staying injured for two months.
Inna Zeyger
Wednesday May 22, 2024

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Excitement filled the home dugout in The Bronx approximately 3 1/2 hours before the first pitch as Gerrit Cole, who had finally been cleared to resume pitching, prepared to face hitters for the first time since early March. In this unprecedented matchup against teammates Oswaldo Cabrera and Jahmai Jones, Gerrit Cole unleashed an array of pitches, including 11 fastballs, three changeups, two curves, two sliders, and two cutters.

While he expressed satisfaction with most of his offerings, the Yankees ace noted that the changeup was the exception. But Gerrit Cole’s enthusiasm for throwing to hitters after a two-month hiatus only in pinstripes stole the show. He decided to forgo wearing a BP jersey with his pinstriped Yankees pants for Tuesday’s live batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Instead, Gerrit Cole opted to wear his full pinstriped No. 45 game jersey, a testament to his eagerness to return to the mound. When asked about his choice of attire, the Yankees ace simply stated that he missed it and felt incredibly happy to be able to put it on that day.

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

The significance of this moment was not lost on those within the Yankees organization, as a diverse group of individuals, including manager Aaron Boone, executive Omar Minaya, catcher Jose Trevino, and fellow rotation members Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon, gathered to witness Gerrit Cole’s return. This live batting practice session marked a crucial step in Gerrit Cole’s recovery from the elbow inflammation that had sidelined him during spring training, and he passed the test with flying colors, throwing 20 pitches from the Yankee Stadium mound while facing Cabrera and Jones twice.

Gerrit Cole expressed satisfaction with his latest live throwing practice session, despite not being entirely content with his changeups. The Yankees ace threw 20 pitches, focusing on fastball command and incorporating sliders and curveballs that he deemed sharp. He mentioned that he had to “dial the fastball back,” which he considered a positive sign, and he effectively worked the pitch up and down the strike zone.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has his first live session against batters at Yankee Stadium on May 21, 2024 after staying injured for two months.

The only contact made against him was a high popup to shallow left field during Cabrera’s second at-bat. Gerrit Cole remarked that the quality of his pitches was pretty good, and he had to dial the fastball back, which he considered a good sign. The Yankees ace pitcher also noted that they worked the fastball up and down well, and the spin was pretty good.

“The quality was pretty good,” he said. “I had to dial the fastball back, which is a good sign. We worked the fastball up and down well. The spin was pretty good.”

Looking ahead, Gerrit Cole anticipates one or two more live batting practice sessions, likely over the upcoming weekend, before he receives clearance to commence his minor league rehab assignment. The pitcher stated that there would probably be a few more sessions before he gets the green light to begin building up in the minor leagues.

While acknowledging that his changeup requires some fine-tuning, the right-hander remains confident in his ability to refine the pitch as he continues his recovery process.

Gerrit Cole’s seriousness makes it more than just a rehab

Gerrit Cole’s recent live batting practice session showcased his progress in recovery, with his fastball velocity reaching 96 mph on multiple occasions. 

However, pitching coach Matt Blake had to intervene, urging the Yankees ace to ease off the gas to prevent him from pushing himself too hard, too soon. Gerrit Cole humorously recounted the incident, saying that after hitting 96 a couple of times, Blake yelled at him, prompting the pitcher to deliberately throw a few pitches at 90 mph to balance it out. 

The ace acknowledged that sometimes he didn’t realize the intensity of his pitches. Though Gerrit Cole hadn’t intended to throw at 96 mph, the speed flashed a positive sign.

“I hit 96 a couple of times and Matt yelled at me,” he said smiling. “So then I had to throw 90 a few times to even it back out,” Cole said with a smile. “Sometimes you don’t realize it comes out quite so hot. I wasn’t intending to throw 96. It’s a good sign.

Blake’s cautionary approach aligns with the Yankees‘ objective of ensuring Gerrit Cole builds up his strength and endurance in appropriate increments. The pitcher also understood the importance of this gradual progression, stating that the goal is to increase his workload steadily. 

Despite the occasional high-velocity pitch, Gerrit Cole’s fastball averaged between 92-94 mph for the 11 he threw during the session, which is exactly where the Yankees want him to be at this stage of his recovery. This velocity represents an improvement from his most recent bullpen session, where he threw 40 pitches at 90-92 mph.

Looking ahead, Gerrit Cole believes that he’ll be ready for game environments once he consistently reaches the 95-96 mph range. From there, he plans to focus on building volume and endurance. The right-hander’s recovery plan includes throwing another live batting practice session over the weekend, followed by a potential third session before progressing to rehab games. 

Gerrit Cole expects a June return

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has his first live session against batters at Yankee Stadium on May 21, 2024 after staying injured for two months.

Gerrit Cole, visibly sweating and smiling, stood by his locker and addressed reporters on Tuesday without changing his clothes first. When asked about the possibility of returning before the end of June, the Yankees star didn’t dismiss the idea, saying he wouldn’t rule it out. 

Manager Aaron Boone concurred with Gerrit Cole’s assessment but emphasized that the ace still had a significant amount of rehab work ahead of him. He cautioned against making predictions, stating that while things are going well and Gerrit Cole’s recent live batting practice was another big step, he would need a couple more sessions before throwing in a game.

Although Gerrit Cole is unsure of the exact pitch count he’ll aim for during his rehab starts, the Yankees treat his recovery process like a typical spring training. As a result, the ace pitcher anticipates making around four starts before ultimately being activated from the injured list and rejoining the team.

Boone praised Gerrit Cole’s performance during the live BP, noting that the pitcher looked sharp and in control, with easy velocity. The manager remarked that the ball seemed to be coming out easily, indicating a positive development in his recovery process. For the Yankees ace, the first live BP was an enjoyable experience, and he felt an added sense of adrenaline facing hitters. The 33-year-old acknowledged that he was not 25 anymore and while he didn’t have significant issues back then, he was trying to learn from his experience in the spring.

“I’m 33 now. I’m not 25,” he said. “Didn’t really have too much of an issue back then. It’s not like I have a big issue now. It’s just trying to learn really from the experience in the spring.”

According to Gerrit Cole, he still needs to throw one or two more sessions against live hitters before embarking on his rehab assignment. His next outing is planned for the weekend in Tampa while the Yankees are in San Diego for the start of a three-city West Coast trip.

The live BP session was a momentous occasion, evidenced by the numerous Yankees players who gathered at the dugout rail to watch.

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