New York Yankees' ace pitcher Gerrit Cole throwing in the...

New York Yankees' ace pitcher Gerrit Cole throwing in the bullpen with pitching coach Matt Blake watching at practice during spring training at George E Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. Tuesday March 15, 2022 Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. — Gerrit Cole isn’t sweating Major League Baseball’s memo from Friday declaring a renewed fervor for cracking down on the use of sticky substances by pitchers.

The edict went into effect over the weekend, with pitchers having their hands checked by umpires during games. Asked Sunday what he makes of MLB's extra focus on the issue, Cole said, ''Not much.''

Cole became the face of the situation last June  when MLB made its intentions clear to enforce rules long on the books and long not enforced about the application of foreign substances on baseballs to make them do otherworldly things.

As part of Friday’s memo, MLB reaffirmed that the only acceptable substance to help a pitcher gain a grip is rosin, which cannot be mixed with substances such as sunscreen, a practice employed by pitchers for decades.

“I like that it’s uniform across the league,” Cole said Sunday. “You know what you’re getting when you show up to the park.”

While Cole’s numbers Sunday weren’t good, that doesn't matter for a veteran pitcher who isn't competing for a job. Though he allowed four runs (three earned) and four hits, including two homers, in a 7-4 victory over the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field, Cole was mostly pleased with his stuff after throwing 50 pitches in two innings-plus.

That included success in firing fastballs low in the strike zone — a priority of his entering the game — and throwing a slider and curveball that at times demonstrated a significant amount of bite.

“I thought that stuff was pretty good, first game, pretty good,” said Cole, who went 16-8 with a 3.23 ERA and 243 strikeouts — five shy of Ron Guidry’s franchise single-season record set in 1978 — in 181 1⁄3 innings last season. “And when we made good pitches, we got good results. I think the amount of first-pitch strikes was too low.”

Cole’s first two pitches to Pirates leadoff man Cole Tucker were 96-mph fastballs that went for strikes. Back-to-back 97-mph fastballs out of the strike zone followed before Cole struck out Tucker swinging at a 98-mph fastball up in the strike zone. Cole, who struck out five, then caught Bryan Reynolds looking at a 99-mph fastball.

After walking Roberto Perez, a catcher the Yankees tried to get before the lockout, to start the second, Cole struck out Oneil Cruz (named after Paul O'Neill) swinging at a 98-mph fastball. But Diego Castillo, whom the Yankees dealt to the Pirates along with Hoy Park in exchange for righty reliever Clay Holmes before last year's trade deadline, lined a 96-mph fastball to the opposite field for a two-run homer.

Tucker led off the third with a homer, and after Reynolds reached on an error by Marwin Gonzalez and Park singled, Cole was replaced by righty Barrett Loseke, a minor-league call-up for the day.  

Cole will see his pitch count bumped upward by 10 to 15 pitches his next time out in his final Grapefruit League start. Then, after a 3 1/2-week spring training,  he'll start the season opener against the Red Sox at the Stadium on April 7.

“I’ve got good enough stuff to compete [when the games start for real],” Cole said. “Just got to get it in the zone. Just control a couple more of those counts and we’ll be in a good spot.”

Aaron Boone saw the outing similarly.

“I was really pleased with his stuff,” he said. “The quality of his fastball, things he wanted to work on. Didn’t have the strike-throwing down exactly or the command dialed in exactly how he’s going to do . . . but I thought delivery-wise he was real smooth, the life on the fastball [was good]. I thought it was a good day of work for him.”

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