The Yankees' first full-squad workout isn’t until Saturday but that didn’t mean Yankee Stadium was quiet Thursday.
Far from it.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole headlined a group of stars who worked out there Thursday, the highlight of the afternoon being his three-inning simulated game in which the righthander, faced Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Luke Voit. Cole's fastball sat at 95-99 mph, according to pitching coach Matt Blake. The Yankees tweeted video of some of the session just before Blake spoke to the media.
“He looked good today, he’s pretty close to game speed,” said Blake, who watched Cole, as well as reliever Adam Ottavino, throw off the Stadium mound. “We’re in a game-ready velocity now, it’s just about fine tuning it and sustaining it over longer pitch counts. So I think he feels good about where he is.”
Cole, signed over the winter to a record nine-year, $324 million contract, has been throwing regularly since spring training was officially shut down March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, doing so either at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, where manager Aaron Boone lives close by, or at the Stadium.
All Yankees pitchers kept their arms in shape during the long hiatus with individualized throwing programs, but that doesn’t mean any of them will be exempt from what overwhelmingly people inside the game say is their No. 1 concern with a sudden restart: injuries.
“This first seven-day window, just like a traditional spring training, is really the critical period for us,” said Blake, hired in the offseason to replace the fired Larry Rothschild, who is now the Padres’ pitching coach. “Not pushing them too hard and knowing that we probably have a little more flexibility than we did in spring training 1.0…trying to make nine innings every day [against an opponent]. At least playing ourselves [in intrasquad games], we can control the pitch counts, we can control the innings, so we’re not necessarily forcing anybody to go out there and do more than what they’re capable of.”
Though concerns about injuries – and that goes for position players as well – are real, Blake said his initial read as pitchers have reported to the Stadium this week has been positive.
“We feel good about where guys are at coming in,” Blake said.
That includes lefty James Paxton, who underwent lower back surgery Feb. 5 but who by all accounts will be ready to slot into the rotation when the season starts.
“I know Paxton was obviously one that was really critical for us to be able to build up [during the time away] and he’s actually in a really good spot and one of the most built up coming in here. So as of right now, knock on wood, we feel good about the health of our team. Obviously getting them in and building them up will be the critical period where we want to make sure we don’t push them too fast, everybody’s coming in in a relatively healthy spot, so hopefully that continues.”