If only Monday night’s thunderstorm in The Bronx possessed a little more oomph, Gerrit Cole could have doubled his career complete-games total from two to four in the span of three starts as a Yankee.
Alas, this shower showed off as much power as the standard 2020 Yankees opponent: Not much. Hence the Yankees’ $301.3 million man couldn’t add a six-inning CG to the five-inning, rain-shortened masterpiece he twirled on opening night in Washington. Action resumed after a one-hour, seven-minute delay, allowing the Yankees to complete their 6-3 defeat of Joe Girardi’s Phillies and make Cole’s home pinstriped debut a successful if sleepy one (you really felt the empty seats on this night).
Besides, with Cole now 3-0 in three Yankees starts, the winner of 19 straight regular-season decisions overall (sixth best in the game’s history), I’m less intrigued by the length of Cole’s outings and more curious about the height of his potential, which, based on what we know of him, he hasn’t hit. How good can he be once he gets his sea legs under him?
“I think there’s room for improvement still across the board,” Cole said after the game. “With that said, with what we’ve had every time we’ve gone out, we’ve done a good job. So you can do as much work as you can in between, but whatever you’ve got that day, is what you’ve got that day, and you’ve got to figure it out. We’ve been doing a good job of that.”
“He’s got that kind of stuff where it can be a shutout. He’s going to hold teams down when he gets in those rolls on a given night where … he’s going to cut through no matter what the lineup is,” Aaron Boone said of his ace. “You know that’s always possible. But I think what he’s showing you right now is just how good a pitcher he is.”
Boone praised the Phillies for staying on Cole’s fastball; their one run against him, Jay Bruce’s solo homer in the third, came on a 99 mph heater. That prompted Cole to turn more to his curveball, which he used to strike out Adam Haseley in the fifth. In all, the Phils tallied five hits and a walk off Cole while fanning four times.
With the Yankees offense again producing plenty against Phillies veteran Jake Arrieta, even as Aaron Judge’s streak of consecutive games going deep halted at five, Cole didn’t need to dominate the opposition, and his 2.55 ERA through three starts represents nothing at which to sneeze. Yet he has totaled 16 strikeouts in 17 innings, an average of 8.2 per nine innings, markedly lower than his two breakout seasons with the Astros when he K’d 12.4 per nine in 2018 and 13.8 last year.
“He’s kind of still finding his way a little bit,” Boone said. “But I’m excited by where he’s at.”
With nitpicking the only current pathway to misery for the Yankees’ legendarily spoiled fan base, such grumpy types can point to the team’s starting rotation as a source of concern when they’re not screaming over Gary Sanchez’s swings and misses. If this season actually reaches October, there’s reason to think that the dominant bullpen will again be asked to carry a heavy load. The difference between manageable and too heavy, as it proved to be last postseason, could be Cole’s ability to dominate deep into playoff contests.
This version of Cole could be good enough to do great things. The Yankees know, however, that a better version exists. Can that guy emerge amidst this romp through the schedule?
“To be honest, I imagined getting a win in the home debut,” Cole said, downplaying the bummer of empty stands. “So I guess we got that one done. The new uniform was great. The mound is top notch here. We obviously played a crisp ballgame. So yeah, it was a good day.”
The better his workdays look, the better the Yankees’ chances at ending their 10-year champagne drought.