LAKELAND, Fla. — Were two spring training starts enough to get Gerrit Cole ready for the regular season?
They will have to be.
“I’d rather have maybe another start or two, but it is what it is,” Cole said early Friday afternoon after going 3 1/3 innings in a 6-2 victory over the Tigers in his final exhibition outing. “Made enough good pitches, so we’re in a good spot.”
Cole, who will start the season opener Thursday afternoon at the Stadium against the Red Sox, allowed one run, two hits and two walks, striking out five. Cole allowed four runs (three earned) and four hits in two innings last Sunday against the Pirates in his only other start. He also threw two simulated games during spring training.
There was some question whether Cole, who threw 64 pitches (42 strikes) Friday, would even make the start against the Tigers because of a wet forecast.
Cole, whose fastball peaked at 99 mph and mostly sat in the range of 96 to 98 mph, said it was important for him to get on the mound for his final spring tuneup against another team, especially with spring training cut from six weeks to 3 1/2.
“Wanted to get the adrenaline going a little bit,” Cole said of something that isn’t quite the same when a pitcher faces teammates in a simulated game, something he would have been forced to do Friday if the game had been postponed.
Catcher Kyle Higashioka said Cole looks more than regular season-ready. “Velo’s there and the stuff looks good,” he said. “Overall, everything he was throwing was in the vicinity of where we wanted it.”
After a pair of 1-2-3 innings to start the day — and recording three strikeouts in the process, including catching Miguel Cabrera looking at a 97-mph fastball for the second out of the second — Cole found some trouble in the third.
With none out, Riley Green crushed a changeup to center for a triple and Spencer Torkelson and Tucker Barnhart walked to load the bases. Cole struck out Akil Baddoo swinging at a 99-mph fastball and Victor Reyes popped a first-pitch 98-mph fastball to Isiah Kiner-Falefa at short.
DJ LeMahieu made a diving stop to his right on Javier Baez's ground smash to third, but his throw to second was a tad late, allowing a run to score. After being replaced by Ron Marinaccio who got out of it, Cole — as allowed by spring training rules — came back to start the fourth at 49 pitches and ran his pitch count to 64 before Marinaccio replaced him again.
“Got beat a couple of times and responded well,” Cole said, pleased with how he pitched with runners on base.
Which Higashioka said is something he looks for from pitchers at this time of year. “Always like to see how a guy can work out of a jam in the spring,” he said. “I thought he looked really good.”
The catcher said that from his standpoint, it’s more of a “feel” when he believes a pitcher is ready to pitch in the games that count, and Cole is at that point.
What does he look for that tells him that?
“If I am comfortable asking him to do certain things that [are difficult] to do and I know it’s something we’ll need in the regular season,” Higashioka said, using “landing a backdoor slider” as one of a handful of examples. “He [was] good to go.”
Aaron Boone saw it the same way.
“I thought everything showed up today,” he said. “I thought it was a little of everything . . . we’ll see how he is [tomorrow], but he [looks] ready to me.”