Gerrit Cole Finishes Strong in Yankees Intrasquad Debut, Adjusting Further to 'New Dynamic' Amid Coronavirus

Max Goodman

As Gerrit Cole sauntered off the mound toward the Yankees' dugout on Tuesday night, he was greeted warmly by his manager and teammates as they congratulated him on a terrific outing. 

Considering the right-hander had twirled five innings of one-run ball in an intrasquad against his teammates, you'd think Cole would be pleased with his performance. After all, the Yankees have two-plus weeks to go before Opening Day.

Think again. 

"I was trying to win," he said, sucking his teeth at the podium. "Unfortunately we lost."

In what was the Bombers' second intrasquad of Summer Camp at Yankee Stadium, Cole surrendered the lone tally of the evening, a solo home run off the bat of Miguel Andújar in the top of the first frame. 

Andújar's liner, nestling into the empty seats just a few rows past the short porch in right, was the only hit Cole gave up all night long. The Yankees' ace struck out six of his teammates, walking two and firing in a total of 67 pitches (43 for strikes).

"It was nice to get to five [innings], we were efficient, bounced back from a couple walks well, and overall the location was pretty good," Cole said, deciphering intricate details of his start.

The 29-year-old retired the final 10 hitters he faced. How's that for finishing strong in his first game-like situation since Game 5 of the World Series last October.

"I thought he threw the ball really well and I thought he finished well too," skipper Aaron Boone said, encouraged by Cole's ability to get through five frames when he was initially scheduled to toss four. "I thought his stuff was really good from start to finish. In fact, in some ways I felt like he got even a little sharper and into a good rhythm."

With no fans in the stands, those present had no problem hearing the pop of backstop Gary Sánchez's glove on Cole's fastballs all night long. The right-hander said he had no problem adjusting to throwing in a barren ballpark. You can credit that to his intensity, something Yankees' pitching prospect Mike King absorbed from the visitors dugout in between his own innings out on the rubber.

"You see that on the mound even in these intrasquads – first one of spring training 2.0 – and he's mad at himself for missing pitches, mad at himself for not executing," King recalled fresh off his scoreless outing against many of the Yankees' starters. "So it's that competitiveness and intensity that he brings that I hope to do the same."

Even in a game that didn't count, Cole used Tuesday's outing as a chance to acclimate himself with the new norm. Throwing in a vacant venue will evidently be a piece of cake for New York's No. 1 hurler, but changes in the locker room and thus, in his preparation, will require some getting used to.

"I just tried to fall into that rhythm as best I could," Cole said, kneeling behind the mound before the game's first pitch to gather himself and focus in on the moment. "I tried to practice it early in the clubhouse too, dealing with the new dynamic here and the new digs so I'm just trying to practice as much as I can to get as comfortable as I can."

After throwing a simulated game last Thursday, Cole was lined up to have three outings packaged with an additional day off along the way to line him up with the Yankees' opener on July 23. 

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In that span, Cole and his teammates will continue to adjust to the game's new rules in conjunction to the league's COVID-19 protocols. As fans watching the intrasquad on television may have realized early on, that's still a work in progress for those in pinstripes.

After punching out Mike Tauchman for the first out of the night, the ball Cole was using was thrown away toward the dugout. During the pandemic, the tradition of throwing the baseball around the horn after a strikeout is discouraged in an effort to limit the amount of hands that touch a single ball. 

On the mound, Cole looked around, seemingly a bit confused. He wanted to continue using the baseball he just threw to get his first out of the inning. With a new baseball, the next pitch he threw was smacked by Andújar over the wall in right. 

"We weren't exactly sure if we were supposed to keep it or not and so we kind of made a joke about it," Cole explained. "It looks like I probably should have kept it."

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His manager also noticed the situation, saying after the game that the confusion on the diamond extended to the dugout as well. 

That's one perk of Summer Camp. New York has a few weeks to ask those questions and learn together so they'll be ready to follow the rules with ease when the regular season begins. 

To Cole, he's confident this ball club can make it happen, even in these unprecedented circumstances.

"I think there's obviously going to be some added preparation in terms of really knowing the rules before we get out there and that's kind of all of our responsibilities," Cole explained. "It falls under the job description of playing during a pandemic and we'll get it done, we'll get into it, we'll do it safely."

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