TAMPA — Sometimes, a lifeboat can run you as much as $324 million.
Or think of it this way: How dour and dire would this Yankees camp be if they hadn’t landed Gerrit Cole?
Any day that Cole toes the slab and emerges upright can’t rank as an all-bad day for the Yankees, who have clocked more than their share of such work shifts in the last month. Hence when Cole dazzled the Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon with a mix of heat and chicanery, it stabilized yet another chaotic day. It emphasized the reality that, due to no fault of his own, the right-hander has become even more important to his new team’s fortunes just since reporting here to George M. Steinbrenner Field.
“Obviously, he’s going to be a guy we love handing the ball to,” Aaron Boone said. “It’s really great having him, and I look forward to that, especially during the season. A guy you can obviously really count on.”
Cole, asked if he felt an increasing sense of responsibility as many of his teammates have been sidelined, smiled and said, “Not really.” Can’t get full buy-in on every column idea, right?
Consider that this day launched with a new world order of the media, as well as nonessential team personnel, being banned from the Yankees’ clubhouse thanks to the spread of coronavirus. Surely that bothered the media more than it did the Yankees, yet it spoke to the unanswered questions this epidemic has posed.
And before lunchtime, word hit that Gary Sanchez, already battling back woes, had headed to team doctor Normal Castellano with a fever … which naturally stirred speculation that Sanchez had contacted the coronavirus. Boone announced after the Yankees’ 4-2 loss that Sanchez had tested positive … for the old-fashioned, far less dangerous flu. That will sap the injury-prone catcher’s strength and cast even more doubt upon his timeline for a return.
It has been that kind of spring for the Yankees, who have lost Luis Severino for the year as he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and have seen their dual behemoths Aaron Judge (right rib stress fracture) and Giancarlo Stanton (strained right calf) go down. Add to that the James Paxton back surgery that occurred a week before camp opened, Aaron Hicks’ Tommy John surgery and Domingo German’s domestic-violence suspension, and the team’s depth will be tested not dissimilar to last year’s trials.
The Yankees naturally want to exceed what they did last year, and that’s where Cole enters the conversation. Not only for October, when he can be the ace they lacked in 2019, but for the regular season, when he can anchor a roster that can claim the top seed and therefore home-field advantage throughout the American League (insert trash can-banging/buzzer joke here).
On Tuesday, Cole threw 55 pitches, 36 for strikes, as he limited the Jays to a run and two hits in 3 ¹/₃ innings, striking out six and walking none, eliminating any concerns that might have emerged from his previous outing when he gave up six runs to the Tigers. While he twice hit 100 mph on the ballpark’s radar gun, he also notched two strikeouts with his changeup, the pitch he threw fourth-most often last year.
Asked whether that pitch could become more of a weapon for him in 2020, Cole said, “I think it could be, especially when the situation dictates it. I need to be sharp on my reads so that I’m convicted in the pitch, which we’re talking about with the catchers. Trying to find a few more opportunities to sprinkle it in, for sure.”
He should get two more outings before the Opening Day assignment March 26 in Baltimore (pending more coronavirus developments). That’s two more opportunities for the Yankees to draw positive energy from their ace as they try to maintain the rest of their talented yet seemingly jinxed roster.
How much is too much for a lifeboat? These Yankees appear determined to take that question to its limit. And they couldn’t be more grateful for the chance.