Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole throws a bullpen session before a...

Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole throws a bullpen session before a game against the Rays on May 11 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

Gerrit Cole is set to take the next significant step in his rehab – facing hitters, something he’s scheduled to do Tuesday – though the Yankees’ ace righthander doesn’t necessarily see it as such.

Every step along the way, Cole said before playing catch Monday afternoon, has been significant.

“I’ve had a few significant days, but I don’t find them any more or less significant than the other,” said Cole, rehabbing from right elbow inflammation. “Sometimes it’s just like a day of ‘firsts.’ It’s usually a fun day. First day throwing, first day on a mound, first day facing hitters, first day doing two ‘ups’ [simulating multiple innings].”

Cole laughed.

“I feel like probably the biggest one [significant step] will be my first start back,” he said. “That’ll be the biggest one. I can probably say that will certainty.”

Exactly when that will be, of course, is the question, one neither Cole nor the Yankees have a concrete answer for.

The pitcher is in the early stages of what essentially is a second spring training. Regular spring training lasts six weeks for the sole reason of building up starting pitchers. Because he’s rehabbing an injury, Cole isn’t on the exact same schedule he would be during a typical spring, so it’s not an automatic six weeks from the point Cole began throwing bullpens in earnest, which began less than two weeks ago. Still, targeting July 1 as a potential return date was a best-case scenario floated behind the scenes in the organization when Cole got his initial diagnosis, and that date remains in play.

For Cole, the rehab process is about checking off one box, recovering properly, and moving on to the next one.

So what is the significance for Cole of facing hitters?

“The significance is, it’s definitely the enjoyment of the competition and the extra adrenaline that comes with that,” he said.

As for what he’s looking for out of his stuff at this point in the rehab, Cole said: “I’m looking for the lowest rate of perceived exertion and the highest rate of intensity or quality. So how little I can try and how much I can produce.”

In other words, pitch the way he does in games.

Cole is proud of a variety of aspects of his career on the mound but none more so than this: in his outings, Cole generally throws as hard late in the games – and sometimes harder – as he did in the beginning.

When scouts talk about a given pitcher throwing “an easy 98,” or some other high number in terms of velocity, they mean the pitcher is doing so seemingly without expending maximum effort. A lot of starters can come out throwing close to 100 in the first inning. What separates the good pitchers from the great, talent evaluators say (and Cole has said this as well), is the ability to maintain that kind of velocity throughout an outing.

Indications are Cole is progressing positively in that regard, which will get its next test Tuesday with actual hitters in the box against him.

“It’s important,” Aaron Boone said. “Bouncing back from the two-up bullpen (over the weekend) with some guys standing in on him, and [he was] feeling good yesterday coming in. We just want to continue to progress and continue stack good days, and that’s another step along the way.”

Extra bases

Righty Ian Hamilton, who has a 3.18 ERA in 19 games, was placed on the seven-day COVID-19 IL on Monday. Lefty Clayton Andrews, who had a solid spring, was added to the active roster in Hamilton’s place. “Fastball with some ride and a really good changeup,” Boone said before the game of Andrews’ repertoire…

Aaron Judge, after going 10-for-20 (.500) with three homers, five doubles, seven walks, seven runs and a .630 on-base percentage last week, on Monday was named the American League Player of the Week. It was the 10th time in his career Judge has been so honored, the previous time the week of Sept. 25 of last season…DJ LeMahieu, out since the start of the season with a non-displaced fracture in his right foot, will likely play in three more rehab games this week and could be activated by this weekend’s series against the Padres in San Diego. Boone said when LeMahieu returns, he will more or less be the everyday starting third baseman.

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