Even After His First Double-Digit Strikeout Outing as a Yankee, Gerrit Cole Doesn't Feel in Midseason Form

Max Goodman

When starting pitchers are pulled from an outing, often times they'll get a drink, sit down to catch their breath, or perhaps even head into the clubhouse to take a shower. 

Not Gerrit Cole.

As the right-hander arrived in the Yankees' dugout at Tropicana Field on Saturday afternoon — taken out after tossing a season-high 107 pitches — Cole took a sharp right turn toward pitching coach Matt Blake who stood at the dugout railing.

Moments later, the two began looking over some paperwork with game charts from his outing.

Cole had struck out 10 over 4 2/3 frames — his first double-digit strikeout performance in a Yankees uniform — but ran into trouble at the very end of his start. All three runs allowed came with two outs in the fifth, forcing manager Aaron Boone to pull the plug.

"Good and bad," Cole said, assessing his fourth start of the season. "I thought the fastball location was improved. Obviously the pitch count got up there and I wasn't able to finish the outing the way we wanted to. But there was some good improvement across the board so I'll just try to take that."

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While Cole didn't have a single 1-2-3 inning, his swing-and-miss stuff was on point. Of the Rays' 52 swings against the right-hander, they came up empty 23 times. 

The downside of a 10-strikeout performance, however, was an increase in Cole's pitch count. The ace attributed the spike in pitches thrown in his shortest outing (by innings) of the season to the Rays' ability to work the count without fail every inning, something his manager agreed with postgame.

"Credit to them, they made him work enough obviously and really drove his count up," Aaron Boone said. "They were able to get a guy on base seemed like every inning."

To open the fourth, Cole threw 12 pitches in one lengthy at-bat as Yoshi Tsutsugo worked a walk. One inning later, all four of the batters he faced leading up to a Jose Martinez two-run home run saw at least five pitches. After barely missing on a two-strike curveball, Mike Zunino ripped a double — moments later, he was one strike away from getting out of the inning before Ji-Man Choi extended the frame with a double of his own.

When Cole got back to the dugout and was looking back at his start, those were the at-bats that stuck out in his mind. 

"I wanted to see how many pitches I threw to Tsutsugo and that obviously took up a lot, pretty much a whole inning away. There was a curveball to Zunino, I thought I had him, and then I followed up with another curveball that probably should've throttled back up to the fastball in that situation."

Had the Yankees' ace gotten the final out of the fifth, he would have been eligible for the win. With the Bombers going on to win the game — behind home runs from Mike Ford, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — it would have been Cole's 20th victory in a row. 

Instead, his winning streak remains at 19, dating back to last May. If he can secure a victory his next time out, he'll join Jake Arrieta, Roger Clemens and Rube Marquard in a four-way tie for the third-longest winning streak of all-time. 

Not reaching the sixth is uncharacteristic for such a talented starter like Cole. In 2019 with the Houston Astros, the right-hander shoved at least five frames in all but one of his 33 starts. Similarly, Cole struck out 10 in 21 of his 33 starts for the Astros. 

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Boone said even if the hurler couldn't make it through the fifth like he usually does with ease, his outing overall was a sharp one.

"Obviously a couple mistakes there at the end that cost him of being able to get through," Boone explained. "I thought the other side did a good job of at least making it tough on him when I thought he was pretty sharp."

Cole is known for his meticulousness when it comes to his craft, an unrelenting drive to be the best he can be while toeing the slab. With that in mind, it's no surprise that even a double-digit strikeout performance didn't leave Cole satisfied after his outing. 

"I only went 4 2/3 so I'm not going to say I'm in midseason form," Cole said. "I would say that in terms of the stuff, it's another step in the right direction and hopefully we can just finish the outing next time."

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees