Yankees' Gerrit Cole aces 1st rehab start, says he's 'definitely close' to return (2024)

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — He’s back. Almost.

New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole looked dominant and — more importantly — healthy in his first rehab start since an elbow injury ended his spring training. He threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Somerset at TD Bank Ballpark on Tuesday night.

Then he offered a forecast that should widen the eyes of the fan base.


How far is the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner from returning to the Yankees?

“I would say definitely close,” he said.

#Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole in his first start on MLB rehab assignment:

3️⃣.1️⃣ IP | 0️⃣ R | 2️⃣ H | 4️⃣ K pic.twitter.com/LPoq2WF2t7

— Somerset Patriots (@SOMPatriots) June 4, 2024

Cole said he didn’t know exactly how many more rehab starts he might need. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday that the 33-year-old might need a few. Cole said he didn’t think that it would be “very responsible” for him to try to immediately rejoin the major-league team, but he added that it should be “right around the corner.”

“Felt really great to get back out there and get back in the flow of things,” he said.

Cole, who had a limit of 50 pitches, threw 45. He overwhelmed the Hartford Yard Goats, the Colorado Rockies’ Double-A affiliate, striking out five batters while allowing two hits and no walks. He repeatedly touched 97 mph, according to the scoreboard, which Cole was told to ignore from pitch to pitch. Cole told reporters that the board was inaccurate, and that Yankees staffers said that his fastball sat between 94 mph and 97 mph.

The first hit he surrendered was to leadoff hitter Adael Amador on his second pitch of the game. The other was a ground ball single up the middle with one out in the third inning. Cole’s night ended after he struck out Sterlin Thompson to start the fourth inning.

When Somerset manager Raul Dominguez walked out to replace Cole, the 33-year-old gave fist bumps to each of the infielders who converged on the mound and took a moment to acknowledge catcher Ben Rice, ranked No. 20 on The Athletic’s Keith Law’s list of top Yankees prospects. He waved to the crowd as he walked toward the Patriots’ dugout.

Gerrit Cole walks off after 3 1/3 innings scoreless in his first rehab appearance. He touched 97 mph according to scoreboard. Struck out five, gave up two hits and no walks. 45 pitches #Yankees

Fist bumps all around on the mound, took a second to acknowledge catcher Ben Rice. pic.twitter.com/xleGEbGnIT

— Brendan Kuty 🧟‍♂️ (@BrendanKutyNJ) June 4, 2024

“I thought today was exactly what you want to see out of him,” director of pitching Sam Briend said. “First time getting into a game actually in front of a crowd. Being able to establish the fastball, move it around. Find his lines with his secondary pitches. Hit pitch count was right on the nose. Velocity was there. Perfect for what you want to see for his first time out.”


Cole, who seems likely to make his next rehab start Sunday, said he felt so good that he actually had to hold himself back on a few pitches.

“Just the big surge of adrenaline,” he said. “You get on the bull in the first inning, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got two hands on him or else he’ll kick you off. That’s what I mean by that. A lot of horsepower tonight. That was great. Just had to make sure I directed that energy through the glove.”

Briend said the Yankees prefer to have their rehabbing starters jump “about seven pitches” per outing, and estimated that Cole might get 52-55 pitches his next time out. He said it impressed him that Cole was touching 97 mph as early as the first inning.

But the Yankees don’t need to rush back Cole, who had been rehabbing his way back from nerve inflammation and edema. Their rotation has been tremendous in his absence.

Going into Tuesday, their 2.78 ERA in 61 starts was the lowest ERA in the AL and the second-lowest in the majors, trailing only the Philadelphia Phillies at 2.71. Rookie Luis Gil — Cole’s replacement in the rotation — was named the AL Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month for May, going 6-0 with a 0.70 ERA in six starts. On Tuesday night, he dropped his ERA to 1.82, throwing six scoreless against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium.

Nestor Cortes’ 3.46 ERA in 13 starts was the rotation’s highest mark, with Carlos Rodón rebounding from a tough 2023 with a 3.09 ERA in 12 starts. Marcus Stroman, signed in the offseason, had a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts.

When Cole returns, he’ll fill the slot vacated by Clarke Schmidt, who suffered a right lat strain late last week and likely won’t return before August.

On Tuesday, the crowd of 8,260 was Somerset’s highest total since becoming a Yankees affiliate in 2021. Cole received an ovation when he walked out of the Yankees’ dugout at 6 p.m. for warmups. Dozens of fans pressed against the net overlooking the bullpen, holding their cellphones up to record his every move. He consulted with Briend and Double-A pitching coach Brett DeGagne. After his start, he praised Rice for his preparation. As he spoke with reporters after the game, fans lined up outside a side entrance of the stadium, hoping to snag an autograph.

Soon, Cole will be back at Yankee Stadium, and though he’s not exactly sure when that will be, Tuesday was a step in the right direction.

“I’m not sure how many more we’ll need, but definitely closer rather than farther away,” he said.

(Photo of Cole: Courtesy of Somerset Patriots)

Yankees' Gerrit Cole aces 1st rehab start, says he's 'definitely close' to return (1)Yankees' Gerrit Cole aces 1st rehab start, says he's 'definitely close' to return (2)

Brendan Kuty is a Staff Writer for The Athletic covering the New York Yankees and MLB. He has covered the Yankees since 2014, most recently as a beat reporter for NJ Advance Media. Brendan was honored to receive the 2022 New Jersey Sportswriter of the Year award from the National Sports Media Association. He attended William Paterson University and the County College of Morris, and he is from Hopatcong, N.J.

Yankees' Gerrit Cole aces 1st rehab start, says he's 'definitely close' to return (2024)
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