Yankees spring training: Cole leads arms, LeMahieu back, King-sized feeling

New York Yankees team at their spring training camp at Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FL, on Feb 24, 2023.
Michael Bennington
Saturday February 25, 2023

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TAMPA, Fla. – Yankees ace Gerrit Cole thought that facing a lineup with players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo was “a good barometer” for his first competition of the spring.

Cole said, “You just try not to get one back up through the box; when those guys are up there, you have to pay a little more attention.”

Gerrit Cole acknowledged that he was happy with how he was able to control his fastball against Yankees captain and others, and how weak the hits were on against him at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

“Gerrit looked great,” said his manager Aaron Boone. “It was good for them to build up their pitch counts. It was a good step forward, and Gerrit led the way.”

Gerrit Cole didn’t go back into the air-conditioned Yankees clubhouse after the session was over. Instead, he stood on the top step to watch the other pitchers in the club. Cole watched how Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino pitched against the same group of Yankees first-line hitters before his Grapefruit League start on March 3 against the Tigers.

“I really like the way everybody looks,” Gerrit Cole said. “Sevy looks fresh. He’s got some wild horse characteristics to him right now; he’s got a lot of horsepowers right now. I thought his second inning was really good — he fired off four or five fastballs in a row to Giancarlo, and I felt like … he got better from there. And Carlos looks really good, especially from the feedback from everybody else. He’s just settling into his velocity, and his stuff looks really good.”

Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Harrison Bader, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa were some of the other Yankees batters who went up against Cole, Rodon, and Severino. Gerrit Cole’s point of view was mostly shared by LeMahieu, who said that the Yankees arms have looked good so far in camp.

LeMahieu said, “When I look at our pitch on paper, I think it’s the best since I’ve been here. I think I said that last year, and I still think it’s a good idea. I’m really looking forward to that. This year and our team are really exciting to me. I think the front desk did a great job of getting us what we needed.”

LeMahieu is ready to go

During the workout, the Yankees asked a Triple-A umpire to call balls and strikes from behind the home plate to help batters and pitchers get used to the new pitch timer. LeMahieu was called out on the first pitch of his turn at bat, but everything else went smoothly.

“I’m glad he could really give a ball-strike count and figure out how the clock worked, so people could ask questions as things were happening,” Boone said.

Boone said that he has been hammering the new rules into the heads of the Yankees batters since the beginning of camp. He thinks that the early results have been good.

“For example, Rizz tends to look down even when he’s kind of ready, even as he’s getting set,” Boone said. “So knowing when he’s got to be attentive, those kinds of questions that pop up are nice. So far, I think guys are definitely aware of it. Our pitchers are aware of it. There’s probably a handful of pitches where they feel a bit rushed, but I feel like they’re doing a really good job taking ownership of it.”

King-sized feel

On Wednesday, Michael King pitched two innings against real batters. It was his third time facing batters since he broke his right elbow. The right-handed pitcher thinks he will have plenty of time to be ready for Yankees Opening Day. He says that an intense off-season training program gave him more confidence.

“Two weeks before I started throwing, I was begging to get back out there to throw,” King said. “I knew that I was ready to go. I definitely had the bad days where I had no range of motion and was like, ‘Am I ever going to get this back?’ All the physical trainers were like, ‘It will come.’ On my first day of throwing, I was throwing a lacrosse ball at the bottom of the wall, getting yelled at by the training staff because I wasn’t allowed to do that. But just doing those random things made it so I knew I’d be fine coming back.”

Stanton led the way

“[After hitting 59 homers in 2017], I tried to remember everything I ate, everything I watched, everything I did to try to replicate it. You just make sure you stay focused and not live in the past. You understand this is a new year and a new approach from opposing teams. You just be ready to adjust every week, every at-bat, like we need to.” — Stanton, on his advice for Judge following a 62-homer season

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