NEW YORK — Yankees manager Aaron Boone used two words to describe Gerrit Cole’s state of mind through four starts this season: shut down.
Cole’s strong start to 2023, highlighted by his complete game with the Twins on Sunday, is just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees’ patchy rotation. While left-hander Carlos Rodón, his flashy offseason pick-up, and righties Luis Severino and Frankie Montas are parked on the injured list, the Yankees need consistency and electric stuff from their ace. So far, Cole has answered the call.
His start Sunday was so dominant — 10 strikeouts, two hits and one walk allowed over nine innings and 109 pitches in a 2-0 victory — that Boone recalled Cole’s Hall of Fame career. But at least one major recognition is still missing from Cole’s 11-year MLB career. Boone said he’s surprised Cole hasn’t picked up a Cy Young yet, though the skipper is confident he’ll get one, maybe more. While it’s still early in the season, Cole’s 0.95 ERA suggests he could be in for his first such award this year.
“Even coming into this year, I think he’s probably been on some level underrated, underrated,” Boone said of Cole. “He’s a great pitcher. I think he’s going to end up in Cooperstown one day. He’s very responsible, diligent and cares about his profession, his team, his teammates. He’s ready and takes a lot of responsibility to be that guy.”
For Cole, being that guy starts with a Yankees win. He’s not putting much emphasis on his fourth career shutout, and first since July 10, 2021 against the Astros, other than to say that accomplishing the feat is “old school.” The Yankees have won every time Cole has taken the mound so far this season, and that’s the most important result on his mind.
The correlated trend he hopes to maintain is his incredible command of the fastball. When Cole is locating his fastball, it makes his secondary pitches much more effective. And that command combined with getting ahead in the count, he believes, has also allowed him to limit the long ball. Cole’s 33 home runs allowed last year led the major leagues and were a big part of why he tended to spiral, unable to stop the bleeding in big innings. This year, Cole hasn’t given up a single home run in four starts and 28.1 innings.
Interestingly, Cole’s strikeout percentage is slightly lower than what we’re used to seeing from the Yankees’ ace. When asked if his ability to limit home runs is related to his lower K/9 rate, Cole’s eyes lit up.
Yankees’ Gerrit Cole throws 10 shutouts against Twins
“Oh wow. That’s a fascinating question,” Cole commented. “I haven’t thought about it at all, but I’ll keep it in mind and look into it.”
Regardless of how that rate compares to his previous seasons, the workhorse set a new Yankees benchmark for strikeouts on Sunday. Cole became the first pitcher in franchise history to post a sub-1.00 ERA and at least 30 strikeouts in his first four appearances of a season since earned runs became a stat in 1913. With his 10th strikeout of the afternoon, a three-pitch whiff against Donovan Solano, Cole tied Ron Guidry for double-digit strikeout games (23) in Yankees history.
Cole has thrown the most runs in baseball since arriving in New York in 2020 (626) — and every year since 2017, his final season in Pittsburgh (1,424) — and it’s not even close. It’s things like that, along with his miniscule ERA, that add to the argument that Cole is the best pitcher in baseball right now.
To be more consistent, Cole will continue to throw his fastball with conviction and look to lower his walk rate. He has walked at least one batter in each of his four starts, leading to a higher BB/9 ratio than previous years. But the encouraging aspect of Cole’s walk rate is that he’s been able to strand almost all of those runners as well as get out of jams. That confidence will be important for him as the season progresses.
Also, shutting down Cole every five days has lessened the sting of losing two key arms in Rodón and Severino to the injured list. His latest masterpiece salvaged a series split after the Yankees (10-6) dropped their first two games to the Twins. That reliability goes a long way in a 162-game season.
“He’s just handling every situation so well,” Boone said. “His fastball command and the fact that he’s getting pressure in a lot of different spots in the strike zone has been huge for him. His secondary stuff I thought played a big role, all of them. But that’s big performance right there. He’s a special pitcher.”
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets for 3.5 seasons as a reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Rafael Nadal never misses a match, regardless of the country and time zone he plays in. Sleep can always be sacrificed for sports. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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