Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole in the dugout against the Houston...

Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole in the dugout against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on May 8, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The schedule inside the Yankees clubhouse very simply noted that at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, there would be a live batting practice session on the field. It was sandwiched between notes about a hitters’ meeting and the day’s opposing pitcher – easy to miss, if you haven’t been following this saga since spring training.

But, of course, who can forget?

So, when the time came, Gerrit Cole walked in from center field and stepped on the mound to face live hitters for the first time since going down with elbow inflammation in March. But even if you didn’t know what this meant, there were signs: Cole was wearing a full uniform, his teammates speckled the home dugout, watching with keen interest, as did manager Aaron Boone. Media lined up in the visitor’s dugout, cameras out.

First, the details: Cole threw 20 pitches in four at-bats to Oswaldo Cabrera and Jahmai Jones – 11 fastballs, two curveballs, three changeups, two sliders and two cutters – and he felt so good, pitching coach Matt Blake had to tell the Yankees’ ace to dial back the velocity when he hit 96 mph.

After, he was soaked in sweat but visibly pleased (and still wearing the full set of pinstripes). Why?

“Because I miss it,” he said. “I feel really happy that I was able to put it on today.”

If all goes well, it looks like Cole won’t be missing it for long.

Though both Cole and Boone didn’t put a firm timeline on his return, both acknowledged that June was in the realm of possibility. He’ll throw one or two more live batting practices, with the next one coming this weekend, and, if all goes well, he’ll start a rehab assignment.

“It looked like it was coming out really easy,” Boone said. “I thought he was sharp. That’s a big step, right? Walking out with a lot of teammates and you guys [in the media] standing around and I thought he was really, really just pro in how he worked, moved…[I’m looking for], is he in control of his body? Is he forcing anything? And to me, he looked very much in control but with easy velocity, too. Another good step.”

Cole got swings and misses on the fastball, cutter and curveball, and felt no pain, he said.

“I thought it was pretty good,” he said. “I had to dial the fastball back, which is a good sign. I thought the sliders were sharp – everything was really sharp except the changeup, it was just a little pushed beneath the zone. But we worked the fastball up and down well and the spin was pretty good.”

The true test, though, will be how he recovers. But if that goes as planned, he’ll move up from throwing at about 93 or so, to his average velocity of 95-97. After that, it’s about building volume.

“The objective is to make sure we’re building at appropriate increments,” Cole said. “It was a large amount of adrenaline that happened in spring. So, that was [one] of the variables for just accumulating a lot of inflammation. So, we’re just making sure [that we’re not skipping steps]. And I’m 33 now, not 25. I didn’t really have too much of an issue back then and it’s not like I have a big issue now. I’m just trying to learn from the experience of the spring.”

Despite how much the rotation has thrived in his absence, it was abundantly clear how much his return would mean. After he was done, he got handshakes from his manager and teammates.

“They got here early and they adjusted their routines, so honestly, it means a lot,” Cole said of his teammates.

Added Boone: “I walked out there, and I was like, ‘Whoa, OK’. Not surprising considering who it is. But there was a little anticipation around that.”

LeMahieu, Kahnle on deck. Tommy Kahnle (shoulder) is expected to be activated Wednesday, Boone said. DJ LeMahieu (foot) was scheduled to continue his rehab assignment with High-A Hudson Valley Tuesday. The plan is to have LeMahieu play Thursday, Friday and Sunday and ideally have him rejoin the team next week in Anaheim. Additionally, Jasson Dominguez (UCL) had his rehab assignment transferred from Single-A Tampa to Double-A Somerset. Righthander Clayton Beeter, the Yankees No. 13 prospect, was placed on the seven-day IL retroactive to May 20 with shoulder discomfort, Boone said.

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