New York Yankees' DJ LeMahieu greets Aaron Hicks after they...

New York Yankees' DJ LeMahieu greets Aaron Hicks after they both score on the two-run home run by Hicks during the second inning aToronto Blue Jays in an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Gerrit Cole would very much like to make a good – or at least intimidating – first impression.

After an uneven start on Opening Day, Cole is set to make his first start against the Blue Jays this year on Wednesday, and hopefully, he said, set the tone against a team that the Yankees will likely battle for AL East supremacy.

“Even though we play them 19 times, we only play them 19 times,” he said Tuesday. “They count the same in April as they do in September and having to crawl back and having to feel like we’re constantly walking uphill toward the end of the year – you put yourself in a better position when you play better against these teams early.”

Though Cole won’t be fully built up – the shortened spring training meant that he threw only 68 pitches in his season debut – Aaron Boone said he hopes his ace will be able to last a little longer than he did his last time out. The plan, Boone said, is to have Cole at full capacity after two or three more starts. And Cole, no doubt, is looking to have a far smoother performance than the one that caused fans to boo him only minutes into his last game. He allowed three runs in the first inning on Friday, and allowed the first four batters to reach before he settled down to allow just one more hit, a single, in his four innings against the Red Sox.

Asked what he’d do differently this time around, he quipped, “maybe [throw] a strike first pitch of the game.”

“It would be great or at least get into a better rhythm sooner, settle in sooner and go from there,” he said, though he added that, overall, he was pleased with his stuff. “When you’re missing that bad, there are mechanical breakdowns but I’d say, overall, my mechanics are in a good spot. I just had a lot of adrenaline and just kind of spun my tires there for a minute, you know? So I needed to find the rhythm and the tempo to stay within myself a little bit better.”

He doesn’t know what his pitch count will be, he said, and is choosing not to worry about it, because it’s nothing he can control. All he does know is that the Blue Jays, with that explosive offense, will pose a significant challenge – one the Yankees will have to face over and over this year, and maybe even into the playoffs.

“They have a lot of talent and they have some good leaders, too,” he said. “That’s a combination to win a lot of games, so we’ll have our hands full, but we’re confident of what we can bring to the table and if we execute, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”

But a pitcher of Cole’s caliber doesn’t get to where he is by shying away from a worthy opponent. And facing a lineup like that is as good a test of mettle as there is.

“Yeah, for sure” it’s fun, he said. “There’s an element of fun in facing a poor lineup, too, but there’s positives and negatives all the way around. When you’re trying to be the best – and as players, we’re all competitors, right? – other top-notch competition is really the position we want to be in…”

“We’re still settling in but that’s what we’re trying to do here – set the standard of how we want to play and how we want to go about our business.”

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