Gerrit Cole's Impresses in First Live Batting Practice Session of the Spring

Max Goodman

TAMPA, Fla. – Picture Gerrit Cole's first start at Yankee Stadium. As No. 45 emerges from the bullpen in right field, the Yankee faithful will erupt, collectively rising to its feet and calling out the right-hander's name.

Moments like that are still six-plus weeks away, but fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field got a taste of the Bombers' ace taking the mound on Sunday.

Cole threw his first live batting practice session of the spring, tossing a total of 27 pitches across eight at-bats in succession. Gary Sánchez was behind the dish – the third time the battery has worked together – while skipper Aaron Boone and new pitching coach Matt Blake watched from behind a screen adjacent to the back of the mound.

"It's the first time I got a standing ovation for my first live BP. Could tell you that," Cole said, happy with how everything went. "I like the way I felt. Good sweat."

The right-hander threw a mix of fastballs and changeups. He explained that the hardest-hit ball of the afternoon – a line drive single up the middle for Kyle Higashioka – was a "poorly-located changeup in a swing count."

"The biggest focus was hit the volume, feel good, not get too far past fatigued, and try to keep the action on the fastball solid every time," he said. Cole later described the game plan was to mix in the changeup in order to get the work in, not because he felt it was the best option in that count.

"I thought his execution for Day 1 – for any day frankly – was really good," Boone said. "Really good first day of facing live hitters. 

As he settled in, Cole began to showcase his intensity while toeing the rubber for the first time in pinstripes. He grunted, showed disapproval on the few occasions where he missed his spots and called out "there it is" after registering his final punch out of the session.

"Just another peek behind kind of the competitor, the intensity, the confidence he has when he gets on the mound and the seriousness with which he takes it," Boone said.

To Cole, playing hard – even if it's an ordinary workout during Spring Training – is something that he learned at the start of his career while playing for the Pirates. He pinpointed Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin, Neil Walker and A.J. Burnett – who all happen to have played for the Yankees as well – as former teammates he admired, learning from their consistency and putting an emphasis on it within his own game.

"I just always assumed that people who are really good at this game did that," Cole explained. "I both have a love for [playing with intensity] and I also thought it was an essential part of being good."

In addition to Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga and prospect Clarke Schmidt each took the mound on Sunday. Higashioka and Sánchez headlined the list of hitters who stepped into the box against them.

Cole revealed he'll throw one more live batting practice in the coming days as a way to build up before appearing in a game. New York's first Spring Training contest is less than one week away, a matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays on February 22.

In regards to the buzz around the ballpark on Sunday, Cole said it gave him a little extra adrenaline. His experience pitching in sold out stadiums ensured it wouldn't be a distraction. 

"If you can focus with 50,000 in there, you can focus with like 1,500," he said.

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