Gerrit Cole Already Looks Like His Usual Self in 2024 Season Debut

The Yankees ace played all the hits in his first outing of the year Wednesday—from his cutting slider to his familiar dismayed reaction to getting taken out.
Cole made his 2024 season debut Wednesday after missing the start of the year with an elbow injury.
Cole made his 2024 season debut Wednesday after missing the start of the year with an elbow injury. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

There was the classic 98-mph four-seamer, the biting slider, the dramatic curveball. He jogged onto the field before innings and waved at his three-year-old son, Caden, after them, just as he usually does. But the surest sign that Gerrit Cole was back came after he had allowed one run over four innings, then let Baltimore Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins single to lead off the fifth. Out came New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone to relieve his ace, who was pitching for the first time in 266 days. And out came Cole’s signature sullen look. 

Cole knew perfectly well that he would not be allowed to throw more than 65 pitches, that he would only see one batter in the fifth. He knew that it would make sense to ramp him up slowly after he suffered nerve irritation and edema in his throwing elbow in spring training. But for a guy who admitted afterward that he was wiped, he still seemed pretty cranky to see his manager come get him. 

“Cedric does a really good job on the high fastball,” Cole said after it was over and the Yankees had lost 7–6 in 10 innings. “There’s risk-reward up there, pressuring him with it. We did a good job in the first at bat, locating one down and away, managed the launch angle. [Mullins lined to center.] He obviously put the barrel on it, but that's a high-percentage out. And then we attacked him with the fastball up in the second at bat. And he's ready for it. And he's always been—I have, like, 30 at bats against him. He put a good swing on it and got it up the middle. Just a little frustration with a cat and mouse. You know, Cedric got me again on a high fastball.”

Cole grinned. He is done rehabbing. He is ready to resume pitching. 

New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole pitches in the first inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles.
Cole finished his four innings of work having allowed two earned runs on three hits with five strikeouts. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The 47,155 in the ballpark understood the significance of the moment. At 51–25, the Yankees carry the best record in the sport, but they seem to lose a player to injury every day. The crowd cheered along to a hype video celebrating “the return of Gerrit Cole” and gave him an ovation as he took the mound. The fans extended to the dugout: Even shortstop Anthony Volpe admitted he’d been closely tracking Cole’s rehab progression. 

“I think having the best pitcher in baseball influences how you approach the whole week,” he said.

Cole expected the adrenaline rush—indeed, after he threw 70 pitches in his final rehab start, the team lowered his pitch count for this start to account for the extra juice—and he spent all week psyching himself up so that it would not overwhelm him when it arrived. 

“It was kind of a special game for me, a little bit,” he said. “It's just been a long few months and a lot of emotions, so I wasn't too sure how I was gonna feel out there. But locating the ball always quells the nerves a little bit.”

Cole began the game with two wide fastballs, then grooved a cutter that Gunnar Henderson smacked at second baseman Gleyber Torres, who could not make the play and had to watch as it became a double. Cole retired the next two, then allowed a ground-rule double to score a run. He retired 10 of the next 12 hitters, striking out five, and left the game to an ovation. 

The Orioles made some hard contact, hitting six balls harder than 100 mph, but also swung and missed six times. Cole’s fastball averaged 95 mph, down from 96.7 mph last year, but he seemed to have a feel for all his pitches. He threw his cutter, last year his fifth-favorite offering, 23% of the time, and he retired catcher Adley Rutschman in the third with an impressive sequence after falling behind 3–1: a changeup at the knees for a called strike two, then a curveball that dotted the outside corner for a called strike three. 

Righty Ron Marinaccio, summoned in relief, allowed Cole’s run to score, plus two of his own. Victor González gave up another. A thrilling comeback push, ignited when DH Giancarlo Stanton clubbed a three-run homer in the seventh and then singled in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, fell short after closer Clay Holmes allowed two runs in the 10th. New York came within one, but left fielder Jahmai Jones struck out looking with a runner on first to end it. 

Still, Cole was the story of the day. He lobbied the team to let him make this start against the Orioles, the Yankees’ main competition in the American League East, instead of an additional rehab outing. “The team kind of catered to me to a certain extent,” he said. So he tried to be reasonable about the pitch count. (He acknowledged that he was proud he had gone four innings, extending the rotation’s streak of such outings to 76, the longest in franchise history.) 

He declined to speculate on how deep he would go in his next start, except to say, “More.” You can bet that however many that ends up being, he will feel it wasn’t enough.


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Stephanie Apstein

STEPHANIE APSTEIN

Stephanie Apstein is a senior writer covering baseball and Olympic sports for Sports Illustrated, where she started as an intern in 2011. She has covered 10 World Series and two Olympics, and is a frequent contributor to SportsNet New York's Baseball Night in New York. Apstein has twice won top honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors, and her work has been included in the Best American Sports Writing book series. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America who serves as its New York chapter vice chair, she graduated from Trinity College with a bachelor's in French and Italian, and has a master's in journalism from Columbia University.