A.J. Cole hadn’t pitched since May 28, but when he entered Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners with a four-run lead, he tossed two perfect innings to finish the 7-2 win.
And he might have earned himself more opportunities.
Cole, the oft-forgotten eighth member of the Yankees’ bullpen, was acquired from the Nationals on April 23 for cash considerations. He’s made seven relief appearances in nearly two months, with a tidy 0.69 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings. That’s a major turnaround from his performance for Washington in April, when he had a 13.06 ERA in four games, two of them starts.
Formerly a starter accustomed to pitching every fifth day, Cole is adjusting to life in a bullpen with enough power arms to overshadow the little-used long man. Given Cole’s success, Aaron Boone said he might rethink his role.
“I think there’s going to be more opportunities for him going forward, and part of that is because every situation we’ve put him in, he’s been effective,” Boone said before Wednesday night’s game against Seattle. “I think part of it is, going with that eight-man pen, you’re always kind of waiting to where you feel like a game gets lopsided one way or the other. But bottom line is, we haven’t had a lot of those games.”
Although five of Cole’s seven appearances with the Yankees have been at least two innings, Boone said the 6-5 righthander wasn’t considered for the injured Masahiro Tanaka’s turn in the rotation, now occupied by Jonathan Loaisiga, Wednesday’s starter.
To be a rotation option, Cole would have to be stretched out again, Boone said. He’s been so reliable in the bullpen, though, that a move might not be in the team’s best interest.
Cole said he still “loves starting,” but he’s taken quite well to the bullpen. “Either way, I’m pitching.”
Adapting to the routine of a reliever has been a learning curve, especially after being so regimented as a starter. Cole said it’s a “fine line” between how much to work between appearances and how much to rest, just in case he’s needed for mop-up duty.
Sometimes, that preparation includes simulated games. He said he pitched one “about five days ago” with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“Larry got me out to throw a little sim game, just get on the mound and throw against hitters just to get a little feel back,” Cole said. “Anytime I feel like I need to get a little feel off the mound, I will.”
If Boone alters his bullpen strategy, then Cole might have fewer questions about his usage.
“I’m still learning out of it, watching how the other pitchers throw to guys and seeing how my stuff fits in when I throw to guys,” Cole said. “Every day is a learning thing for me.”