TAMPA, Fla. — Gerrit Cole won over some friends Sunday. The Yankees new ace walked out to the mound at George M. Steinbrenner Field to applause. He threw 27 pitches to live hitters with a large group of Yankees pitchers sitting behind a protective screen near the on-deck circle watching closely.
Cole enjoyed the atmosphere as he struck out five of the eight batters he faced. He gave up two hits — including one to back-up catcher Kyle Higashioka — as he worked with just fastballs and changeups. He got a pat on the back from manager Aaron Boone as he walked off the mound and another standing ovation.
“I like the way I felt,” Cole said. “Good sweat. Kind of pushed the tolerance at the end, getting a little bit of fatigue. I felt like I got some good work in. It’s the first time I got a standing ovation for my first live BP, I can tell you that.
“I walked out and I told Boonie, ‘It’s probably going to come out a little bit hotter than anticipated.’ It was fun. It was good. I’m not certainly complaining about a nice atmosphere,” Cole continued. “It was fun.”
It was the first-time that some Yankees fans got to see their $324 million-man on the mound since the Bombers signed him to a nine-year deal in December. Cole is considered the missing piece from a 103-win Yankee team, which will push them over the hurdle to their first World Series appearance since 2009.
The fans obviously weren’t the only ones curious about seeing Cole, who finished second in the Cy Young voting last season to his then-Houston teammate Justin Verlander. Sunday, the front office was out in force to watch Cole’s live BP. So were most of Cole’s fellow pitchers.
Boone, who stood behind the mound with pitching coach Matt Blake during the session, noticed the crowds.
“There was kind of a buzz with the crowds around and a lot of our guys out to see him, it was fun,” Boone said. “It’s just another peek behind the kind of the competitor, the intensity and the confidence he has when he gets on the mound and the seriousness with which he takes it. So obviously just working changeup-fastball today. I thought his execution for day one, for any day frankly, was really good.”
After finishing his first of two live BP sessions before appearing in Grapefruit League games, Cole went over and stood behind the protective screen where Luis Severino, James Paxton, Zack Britton, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder had been watching him. The 29-year-old stayed while left-hander Jordan Montgomery threw the equivalent of two innings of live BP, as well as one from Jonathan Loaisiga and prospect Clarke Schmidt.
It was a chance to see Cole’s attention to detail, which Boone had been raving about all week.
“I think just his level of intensity and concentration of knowing exactly what he wants to work on ... getting the feedback from us and Gary (Sanchez) about the action on pitches,” Boone said. “You know he’s able to process that information really well and and you know if there’s any adjustments to be made, he’s really good on the fly.”
Cole spent that time talking with his fellow pitchers, even diagramming something in the warning-track dirt to show what he was talking about. He said that this is something he really enjoyed doing the last few years with the Astros.
“It’s always nice to have support,” Cole said. “It’s nice to also get live perspective from other people at the same time. What are you seeing from the side? Gary, what are you seeing with hitters, anything coming out? It’s maybe a little early for too many questions because it was just the first day, but support feels good and then always having someone else’s perspective is comforting as well.”