Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in his minor league rehab assignment...

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in his minor league rehab assignment with the Somerset Patriots, the team's Double-A affiliate, taking on the Hartford Yard Goats in Bridgewater, NJ, Tuesday, June 4, 2024 Credit: Ed Murray

There are plenty of perks to being the gilded kings of New York — to having your home run hitters draw comparisons to the Murderers’ Row of old, and fielding a rotation so dominant, the guy who went into the season as the No. 5 starter is now in the Cy Young conversation.

There’s the fanfare and the jubilation, of course — every day at Yankee Stadium seems like a party these days, and especially Wednesday night in their 9-5 win over the Twins — and dreams of a pinstriped parade down the Canyon of Heroes. But there are also other, quieter benefits that are setting up this team for long-term success, and lately, some of that’s manifested on how they’re treating Gerrit Cole.

You know the deal by now: The reigning Cy Young winner went down in March with nerve inflammation and edema in his pitching elbow, and immediately, a sense of woe was cast all about the Bronx. Sure, they had Juan Soto, but could they really survive losing their ace for two-plus months when their starting pitching was such a liability last year?

The answer, it turns out, is, yes, absolutely.

Wednesday, it was Carlos Rodon’s turn to shine — he was perfect through 5 1/3 before giving up two runs. And, naturally, Aaron Judge “helped out,” driving in five runs.

Ho-hum, another complete victory. More proof that, while the Yankees might’ve been this cautious with Cole no matter what, all this dominance makes that choice so much easier.

Cole threw 45 pitches in his first rehab outing with Double-A Somerset Tuesday, 34 for strikes, and looked so much like himself, there could have been legitimate question as to whether the Yankees should just give him a few days and let him take the hill here.

They’re not going to do that, of course. Aaron Boone said Wednesday that Cole likely would still have at least another two or three rehab assignments, and that the team wasn’t sure if they wanted his pitch count to be partially or fully built up before activating him. He said all of that, by the way, before the Yankees won their season-high seventh in a row (they’re tied with the Phillies for best record in baseball).

So, would the decision on when to use Cole be dependent on the standings, or the point in the season, or even on if Clarke Schmidt — on the 15-day injured list with a right lat strain — didn’t heal as quickly as hoped?

“I don’t think so,” Boone said. “This is about Gerrit and making sure he’s in the best place to be the best version of himself.”

And how are they going to determine whether they prefer a full or partial buildup?

“That’s probably more nuanced and (predicated) on conversations that he has, especially with the pitching department, the strength and conditioning and the training staff,” Boone said. It’s about “what makes the most sense and understanding that each step is a rise in adrenaline, managing that. . . . Those will be subtle conversations.”

Subtlety, nuance, caution — these are some of the benefits of success, and a hallmark of what could make this team unstoppable down the stretch.

It’s not just that they’re setting themselves up to have a peak Gerrit Cole locked and loaded for the second half of the season. They’ve also taken steps to optimize their health and recovery methods to better cater to a roster that has historically struggled with injury. Add to that, their measured approach in how they're dealing with Luis Gil, the aforementioned Cy Young candidate who’s never thrown more than 96 innings in any professional baseball season; there’s no innings cap on him, Boone said previously, but they're ready to act if he shows signs of wear.

It's an ethos built around logic and patience, and it’s trickled down to the players. If you want proof, just look at Cole himself: He wants to play more than anyone — when he first threw live batting practice last month, he wore his full uniform because he missed it — but he’s not letting that desire call the shots.

Tuesday in Somerset, Cole was asked what was next for him. “Dinner with my wife,” he quipped. As for the outing itself? “I didn’t really have any expectations.”

Does he feel any pressure now that Schmidt is hurt? “No.”

There’s a lot of confidence in that level of tranquility — a steadiness that should benefit the Yankees in a chaotic postseason picture that's only gotten more unpredictable with expanded playoffs.

This approach also engenders a sense of trust in the clubhouse. The Yankees have the luxury of taking care of the individual as well as the whole, and if you think that doesn’t make some sort of impact on Soto — who will spend this offseason deciding where he’s going to spend the rest of his career — you’re mistaken. Sure, the young superstar will want the most money possible, but at a certain point, winning matters, and liking where you work matters, too.

In short, let Cole take his time. Let the Yankees take things slow now so they can go fast later.

You earn that right when you’re the kings of New York, of the American League, and of baseball.


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