Gerrit Cole won the AL Cy Young Award in 2023...

Gerrit Cole won the AL Cy Young Award in 2023 but will start 2024 on the IL with right elbow inflammation. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. — At the time, Ron Marinaccio was, to use the parlance of scouts, JAG.

Just Another Guy.

Just another arm in a typical Yankees spring training filled with them.

So when Marinaccio, a 19th-round pick of the Yankees in 2017, made his spring training debut on March 18, 2022, in Bradenton, Florida, against the Pirates in the bottom of the sixth inning, his one-strikeout, one-walk performance received little to no attention.

Someone other than the coaches was paying close attention, though: Gerrit Cole.

“I had met Gerrit maybe once at this point,” Marinaccio, now 28, recalled during spring training. “I’m just rolling out into the weight room and he came over to me and started talking through a sequence from the day before of an at-bat that I’m struggling to remember, almost. I’ve never been one to come out of a game and really remember each pitch, and he’s like, ‘Well, you went fastball here and changeup-fastball there and you could have done this, this and this.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know he would be paying attention to what I’m doing, let alone my first outing in spring training’ . . . Definitely surprised that he was interested in what I was doing at that point, surprised that anybody else was paying that much attention.”

Marinaccio’s experience with Cole is hardly unique. Since he joined the Yankees before the 2020 season on a nine-year, $324 million contract, Cole’s “attention to detail” has been praised by everyone from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to general manager Brian Cashman to manager Aaron Boone to players in the clubhouse.

That singular focus helped Cole become one of the best pitchers in the sport, if not the best. But that attention to detail goes well beyond himself.

Nestor Cortes immediately remembered Feb. 14, report day in spring training this year for Yankees pitchers and catchers. More than a few of them were scheduled that day for early-morning physicals, Cole and Cortes among them.

“I was throwing a live [batting practice] that day. Our physicals were here [at Steinbrenner Field], my live was at Himes,” Cortes said of the Yankees’ minor- league complex located less than a mile from Steinbrenner Field on Himes Avenue. “He could have come in, done his physical and gone home. Gerrit went to Himes and watched me and [Marcus] Stroman pitch. Sat behind home and tracked every pitch we threw and had some feedback for us. He texted me later that day, ‘Hey, you looked really good. You’re just missing that extra tick to get your command.’ ”

Cortes shook his head.

“He’s so respected in this clubhouse and probably everywhere he goes because of how much money he’s making and he’s grinding every single day like he’s trying to get that contract,” the lefthander said. “That’s what I respect most about him. It’s easy to just cash it in and not give a [expletive] about anybody else.”

Locked in on everyone

Cole cares about anyone who throws a baseball from the mound on his team.

Walk into the Steinbrenner Field home clubhouse on any given day, and it’s not unusual to see Cole holding court near his locker with one pitcher or several of them. It could be Carlos Rodon to his left or, a few lockers down from him in that direction, Marinaccio or Clay Holmes. To his right it could be Clarke Schmidt, Cortes or Luke Weaver. Across from him there are prospects Will Warren and Chase Hampton.

One morning in late February, there was Cole chatting one-on-one with another prospect, Yoendrys Gomez. He was demonstrating various grips, with the young pitcher listening attentively and then trying them himself.

“He’s a genius when it comes to the whole pitching thing,” said Stroman, also cut from the attention-to-detail mode. “I feel like when we talk to each other, I’m just adding layers to my game, which is pretty incredible. He’s incredible. He’s helped me with a few adjustments mechanically, a few cues that he’s helped me out with when throwing certain pitches in certain counts. Pitch grips. I mean, pitch design as far as grip on the ball and your intent in what you’re trying to do when you’re delivering the ball to the plate. He’s very dialed in. He’s the best pitcher in the game for a reason.”

The Yankees will be without that best pitcher, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, for the first two months of the season because of right elbow inflammation. Given the uncertainty of these kinds of injuries, perhaps it will be longer.

The news — first that Cole would be going for an MRI and the ensuing diagnosis that, while not worst-case scenario, still will result in the Yankees being without him for a significant amount of time — blindsided the organization.

And the clubhouse.

Cole is among the most durable pitchers in the sport, logging at least 200 innings in five of the last six full seasons. His anchoring the rotation, which enters the season with some question marks, was a given.

“He’s the best pitcher in baseball, so it’s not going to be something that you just kind of brush off and continue to go about your day,” Schmidt said. “But it’s also one of those things where the job hasn’t changed for us and our goals haven’t changed, regardless of an injury. Obviously a big blow, losing the best pitcher in baseball, but we’ll pick him up.”

Easier said than done, of course.

‘Co-pitching coach’

Cole is irreplaceable. His overpowering work on the mound is the leading reason why. But there also is what he provides when he’s not pitching, the in-game dugout talks with that night’s starter to discuss pitch sequencing, strategy or something else that might provide an edge along the margins. Fortunately for the Yankees, despite his injury, he still can do that.

There’s a reason why, from his first season until now, Cole has been referred to around the organization as the Yankees’ “co-pitching coach,” with no disrespect meant to the man with the title, Matt Blake.

Cole, fluent in all of the analytics surrounding the game and desirous of collecting as much of that data as possible, still is an old-school workhorse at heart.

He can talk “spin rate” with the best of them, but often his talks with pitchers revolve around nuts-and-bolts: fastball command, thinking out of the box to keep hitters off-balance, understanding that you won’t always have your best stuff and need to “use what you have that night,” which might not necessarily be what the metrics say you should throw in a given situation.

Much of that, and the importance of a veteran pitcher passing along what he knows, was imparted to him during his time with the Pirates, the team that drafted Cole first overall in 2011.

When Cole made it to the big leagues with Pittsburgh in 2013, established Pirates pitchers such as A.J. Burnett, who helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, and Charlie Morton talked to him. So did veteran catcher Russell Martin, a Yankee from 2011-12 who was known as a terrific game-caller.

Cole, then 22, listened.

“I got a lot of help along the way,” he said. “A lot of older guys [in Pittsburgh]. It was part of my growth, a part of what I think creates good culture. I’m in a role, not that I don’t receive tips and things from these guys, but I’m in more of a role to be able to pay that forward. I think that’s important on a human level and I think important from an industry level. You want the best product on the field and [should] share what you’ve learned with teammates.”

Cole is a serial texter.

“Sending text messages, it’s just something that everybody has to deal with on this team,” he said with a smile during his spring training kickoff news conference on Feb. 15.

But those messages aren’t limited to current teammates.

Jordan Montgomery, drafted by the Yankees in 2014 and with the club until he was traded to the Cardinals in the Harrison Bader deal in 2022, was first mentored by CC Sabathia, who retired in 2019, and then by Cole.

As Montgomery chatted with Newsday in the Cardinals’ clubhouse in St. Louis last July 2 after outpitching Cole in a 5-1 victory at Busch Stadium, the lefthander, unprompted, disclosed a text from the Yankees’ ace that had just been sent over from the visitor’s clubhouse: a meme of a cowboy tipping his cap.

“Gerrit’s elite,” Montgomery said that afternoon. “He’s always kind of hyped me up and fluffed me and told me how good he thinks I am while I was there and [now] from afar. He still watches my games.

Where Gerrit Cole ranks with active leaders

WINS

257 Justin Verlander

214 Max Scherzer

210 Clayton Kershaw

145 Gerrit Cole

ERA

2.48 Clayton Kershaw

2.53 Jacob deGrom

3.10 Chris Sale

3.15 Max Scherzer

3.17 Gerrit Cole

STRIKEOUTS.

3,367 Max Scherzer

3,342 Justin Verlander

2,944 Clayton Kershaw

2,189 Chris Sale

2,152 Gerrit Cole

INNINGS

3,325.1 Justin Verlander

2834.2 Max Scherzer

2,712.2 Clayton Kershaw

1,960.1 Charlie Morton

1,8189 Lance Lynn

1,859 Gerrit Cole

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