TAMPA, Fla. — Each of Gerrit Cole’s spring training “firsts” as a Yankee has resulted in a palpable buzz in and around Steinbrenner Field.
It’s been a you-don’t-want-to-miss-this excitement among fans and teammates, somewhat reminiscent of Roger Clemens’ first spring training in pinstripes in 1999.
“You know, everything with Gerrit has been highly anticipated,” Aaron Boone said Sunday. “His first bullpen, his first live [batting practice] session. Obviously, I'm sure they'll be a little buzz around the park [Monday] with him going and [it being] a night game.”
That there was.
Cole, signed to a nine-year, $324 million contract in December, trotted out to a loud ovation from the sellout crowd at Steinbrenner Field for his spring training debut against the Pirates, the team that drafted him first overall in 2011 (the Yankees drafted Cole in 2008 but he did not sign).
Cole, last year’s AL Cy Young Award runner-up to then-Astros teammate Justin Verlander, struck out two and walked one in a scoreless first inning in the Yankees' 3-3 tie.
“It went well,” Cole said. “Made some good pitches, worked well with Gary [Sanchez] . . . I think there was only one or two really pretty poor pitches. It was good work, quality work.”
His first pitch, a 97-mph fastball, was fouled back by leadoff man Adam Frazier. After Frazier popped to short, Cole recorded his first strikeout, getting Bryan Reynolds swinging at a 2-and-2 slider. Cole got ahead of Cole Tucker 0-and-2 but walked him before striking out Josh Bell swinging at a 97-mph fastball to end the inning.
“Couple of quality fastballs at the top, but one of those three has to be in the zone,” said Cole, still a tad irritated at losing Tucker. “So next outing will be continue to fine-tune."
Cole, whose fastball reached 98 mph, threw 12 strikes in 20 pitches.
He has been the talk of camp for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is what club personnel have described as a borderline obsession for information. Information from the analytics department on what might make a particular pitch or sequence more effective, information from other pitchers about what they’re seeing from him, even information from hitters about how they have approached him.
“You’ve seen him out here, whether it be with the other pitchers but also coming out and watching hitters take live BP and kind of sitting and talking to them and picking their brains,” Boone said Monday. “That sharing of knowledge and passing on of knowledge . . . hopefully those are the conversations and relationships that develop that help you get better, because you’re talking about things, you’re talking about strategies or whatever. Those are important conversations, and his investment in that has been pretty neat to see.”
Cole is coming off a 2019 season in which he went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings. He’s clearly at the top of his game but is not content with himself by any means.
“He’s set the bar very high, obviously, but he has that high standard and expectation of himself,” Boone said. “And you see this with most great players and great athletes — they’re never really satisfied and always kind of scratching at, where I can get a little bit better, where I can make a little bit of improvement? And with him, you really notice that. You see him always kind of digging and diving into that kind of thing.”