TAMPA — So much for using the first spring training outing to build arm strength.
In his initial exhibition game for the Yankees on Monday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Pirates, Gerrit Cole pushed the speed guns close to triple digits and showed the competitiveness that played a part in the Bombers making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history with a nine-year deal worth $324 million.
Cole worked the first inning of a 3-3 tie, threw 20 pitches (12 strikes), retired three of the four batters he faced and twice reached 98 mph. He hit 97 mph six times, and struck out two.
Even for a power pitcher like Cole, 98 mph looked odd on Feb. 24.
However, Cole had an explanation for it that made sense.
“Yeah, that’s kind of why I try to keep it to one inning. Some guys go two innings early. I like to take it one at a time for the first two or three until you build up that tolerance to be up and down,’’ Cole said. “Then you can extend the pitch count in certain situations. For the first time, go pitch for one inning and do your best with whatever you got that day.’’
Cole dispatched the first two Pirates hitters with ease before walking switch-hitter Cole Tucker on four straight pitches after the first two were strikes.
Josh Bell, another switch hitter, never had a chance against three of Cole’s fastballs and missed a 97-mph heater for the final out.
Cole threw 14 fastballs and topped out with two 98-mph heaters that were out of the strike zone to Tucker.
“I was expecting it a little bit,’’ manager Aaron Boone said of Cole’s high-octane fastball. “In talking to him and he went the two-ups the last time, he went 40 pitches in his last [batting practice]. We knew he was going to go an inning today and throttle back the pitches. We thought it would be a little crispier and it was.’’
Cole’s program is for him to go an inning in possibly the next two outings and Boone is open to that.
“I think so. I will have to talk in between these days with him and [pitching coach] Matt [Blake]. He is pretty particular how he will get built up,’’ Boone said.
Obviously, it was the first game action for Cole with Gary Sanchez catching and it’s a pairing the pitcher hopes evolves to the point where they “can read each other’s mind.’’
“Read each other’s mind? That would be nice,’’ said Sanchez, who used his new lower stance for the first time in a game. It is designed to help Sanchez frame low strikes better. “It’s a work in progress. It is something new to me, something I am still learning.’’
Considering the amount of Yankees pitchers picking Cole’s brain it’s surprising there is anything left of his frontal lobes.
“I pick his brain to see what makes him good,’’ Jordan Montgomery said. “He is very smart.’’
Chad Green has been around Cole since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 11 and has probed with others who gravitate toward Cole.
“I haven’t talked to him one-on-one, but talking in groups about his thought process on some things,’’ said Green, who has been impressed with Cole’s attention to detail. “Kind of pick his brain.’’
Early in camp Cole stood in front of his locker in the middle of the clubhouse chatting with Montgomery. Zack Britton joined the chat and guest instructor Andy Pettitte rolled up. The session went on for 20 minutes and likely continued after the media’s access was finished.
And it’s not like Cole is a one-way street when it comes to knowledge. Saturday, Cole watched Masahiro Tanaka throw a bullpen session to see how Tanaka maintains his balance on the mound.
“What I have learned from him is just the way he goes about his business whether it is a bullpen or a simulated game and how he prepares,’’ Tanaka said. “Standing behind the screen I am able to see first-hand how he constructs his pitches and in general how he is on the mound.’’