Cole 'definitely close' after successful rehab start

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Gerrit Cole did not have any trouble finding adrenaline in his first minor league appearance in eight years Tuesday night.

It was coursing through the New York Yankees ace as he made his first rehab appearance since being sidelined with nerve irritation and edema in his right elbow in mid-March, starting for the Double-A Somerset Patriots in front of a standing room only crowd.

Cole channeled that energy into an encouraging return to game action, holding the Hartford Yard Goats scoreless over 3⅓ innings. The right-hander allowed just two singles, didn’t surrender a walk and faced one batter over the minimum. He threw 45 pitches, 34 for strikes, on a night he was slated to toss 40 to 50.

Asked if there was anything he didn’t like about the outing, Cole’s answer was simple: “No.”

The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner said he was happy with “really everything” about the outing. He threw his entire repertoire for strikes. His fastball sat between 94 and 97 mph. He bemoaned leaving soft two breaking pitches over the plate, but that was about it a month to the day after he first threw off the mound following the injury.

Cole is expected to make another start for Somerset on Sunday. After that, he isn’t sure.

“Definitely close,” Cole said of coming off the injured list to pitch for the Yankees. “I’m not sure how many more we need, but definitely closer rather than farther away. It should be right around the corner here.”

Speaking after the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, manager Aaron Boone said he caught a couple innings of Cole’s start before first pitch and “thought he looked really sharp.”

“Just as far as command of the fastball and getting to where he wanted to get the swing and miss,” Boone told reporters in New York. “So the 15 or 20 pitches that I saw looked like Gerrit. He looked sharp. Another encouraging step. We’ll see how we get through these next several days.”

With his appearance, Cole, 33, became the highest-profile player to play for Somerset in the team’s short history as the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, which began in 2021.

The atmosphere reflected the moment for this minor league baseball outpost in central Jersey. The team announced a sellout of 8,260, the largest attendance for the franchise since it became a Yankees affiliate. Fans streamed into TD Bank Ballpark long before first pitch. Most were on hand to cheer for Cole when he first emerged onto the field in uniform, wearing his customary No. 45, to play catch before warming up in the bullpen.

“I thought it was really fun overall,” Cole said. “It was a nice environment. It felt really great to get back out there and get back in the flow of things.”

Cole took the mound at 6:31 p.m. Four minutes later, he fired his first pitch in a minor league game since July 2016: a fastball fouled off for strike one. Hartford leadoff man Adael Amador lined the next pitch, a curveball, to right field for a single.

Amador later stole second base without a throw and took third on a groundout. He was left stranded there as Cole struck out Yanquiel Fernández swinging at a fastball to end the 10-pitch inning.

Cole threw 15 pitches in each of the next two frames. He retired the side in order in the second, which ended with a nine-pitch battle with catcher Braxton Fulford. He surrendered a one-out single in the third to Braiden Ward — a line drive up the middle, close enough to Cole to deliver a scare.

The Yard Goats then gave Cole some help: Amador, upon striking out swinging in his second at-bat, was called for batter interference for impeding catcher Ben Rice’s throw to second base on Ward’s steal attempt.

Cole, who completed the third inning with 40 pitches, emerged for the fourth, striking out Sterlin Thompson with a high fastball out of the strike zone. The five-pitch at-bat concluded Cole’s night.

Cole fist bumped each Patriots infielder and tapped Rice on the chest before walking off the mound to a standing ovation. He saluted the crowd and acknowledged the home plate umpire.

Afterward, Cole said he had more in the tank, but the plan was the plan. And on Tuesday, the plan was a rousing success.

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