New York Yankees injured starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) in...

New York Yankees injured starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Credit: Brad Penner

Gerrit Cole standing on the Yankee Stadium mound, going full pinstripes and facing hitters for the first time, drew plenty of attention Tuesday afternoon.

Most of his fellow Yankees, along with members of the front office, filled every inch of the home dugout rail. Across the field, a dozen reporters watched from the opposite side, chronicling each pitch like it actually counted.

What Cole’s long-awaited session didn’t have? Any palpable sense of urgency. Or creeping air of desperation.

And that’s a good thing.

Because Cole rifling through his repertoire on a sunny May afternoon in the Bronx easily could have been mistaken for a relaxed February morning in Tampa. Which is precisely the point. No pressure, no hurry, no need for the reigning American League Cy Young winner to adopt any sort of savior complex during this lengthy rehab process.

Incredibly, the Yankees are just fine without Cole, and should be for a while, despite Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Mariners — the second straight to Seattle — dropping them to 33-17. Even with Clarke Schmidt struggling to get through five innings, and a bout of pitch-tipping that he believed led to the No. 9 hitter Dylan Moore tagging him for a two-run homer, the Yankees’ rotation still has the second-lowest ERA (2.96) in the AL behind the Red Sox’s 2.64. They also are the only team in the majors to have five pitchers make at least seven starts and have an ERA below 3.60 — Luis Gil (2.39), Clarke Schmidt (2.59), Marcus Stroman (3.05), Carlos Rodon (3.27) and Nestor Cortes (3.56).

Schmidt credited the Mariners for picking up some sort of tell in his delivery, and with his pitch count soaring to 63 through three innings, he still gutted his way through five while keeping the deficit at 2-0. He’s allowed three runs or fewer in 30 of his last 33 starts, and Tuesday night’s outing extended the rotation’s streak of throwing at least four innings or more in the first 50 starts, matching the ’89 Yankees for the second longest in franchise history, behind the ’32 club (58 games).

“I’m definitely going to make adjustments and learn from it,” Schmidt said of Tuesday night’s tipping issue.

Since Cole has been instrumental himself behind the scenes as almost a co-pitching coach with Matt Blake, I asked the rehabbing ace if the rotation’s stellar performance in his absence gave him some peace of mind. Rather than worrying about having to rescue a sinking ship upon his return, which Cole said could be as soon as next month.

“I mean, I’m still on the team,” Cole said, smiling. “I feel just as good as everyone else does about them. They’re doing great.”

After a pause to think a little longer about it, Cole then added, “Yeah, I guess if we were really struggling, then it would be a challenge having to not try to feel like you needed to rush it back. So, I obviously don’t feel like I need to rush it back. You know, whether they’re performing well or not, you try to stick to that but there’s definitely not any impending outside pressure.”

That wasn’t the case back in mid-March, with the hysteria surrounding the team when Cole first complained of elbow discomfort. Even after Cole dodged Tommy John surgery, the conventional wisdom figured the Yankees’ suspect rotation wasn’t capable of keeping the team afloat until his return.

But GM Brian Cashman passed on the logical free-agent patch-jobs, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, amid cries of front-office negligence. Two months later, staying the course has never worked out quite this well for Cashman, who’s been fortunate the remaining group has stayed healthy, too. The Yankees’ starting staff also has taken on Cole-like characteristics by pitching deep into games.

Losing Cole for such an extended period, at the start of the Yankees’ most important season in recent memory, was a terribly bad break. What they got instead of Cole, however, is a rotation pitching at the height of its potential, and way beyond the rosiest projections. The Yankees’ starting staff also has taken on Cole-like characteristics by pitching deep into games.

After Marcus Stroman allowed only one run in 7 1/3 innings Monday night (before Clay Holmes’ meltdown cost him the win), the Yankees’ rotation stood at 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA in its last eight starts dating to May 12. By going six innings or more during that stretch, while giving up only six runs total, it marks just the second time the Yankees have reeled off an impressive stretch like that, the only other being in 1932.

“I think we have a great flow of information going on between the group,” Stroman said. “Obviously having Cole in our back pocket is incredible. Being able to go to him in-game, in-between games, and talk pitching, talk analytics, talk mechanics, it’s pretty special. I’m very thankful to have him there ... And we’ve been great. It’s been fun.”

Cole’s contributions on the mound will have to wait. He threw 20 pitches in Tuesday’s live BP session, split between four at-bats to Oswaldo Cabrera and Jamai Jones, dialing his fastball up to 96 mph — a velocity that prompted Blake to have him dial it back down a notch. In regards to Cole, it was a good day for the Yankees, who were pleased to see him wearing the pinstripes again. So was he.

“Because I miss it,” Cole said.

The Yankees miss Cole, too. Just not as much as everyone thought they would, which should help them in the long run.


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