Yankees just showed much-needed blueprint on how to survive without Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole treats pitching with a seriousness, precision and expertise akin to how a world-renowned brain surgeon would his profession.

So no surprise that when he took a major step — or in this case throws — toward returning to a major league mound he offered a matrix-like debriefing. Twenty-five throws. From 60 feet. Twenty-two of which he registered as being ideally delivered to his catch partner’s chest. At 71 mph.

Cole followed that with the best 15 minute TED talk on the pitching injury crisis that anyone is likely to provide; full of thoughtful detail that provided insight, compassion and a 360-degree view of the issue. Check my colleague Dan Martin’s story for greater specifics or my column Tuesday morning on Post+, but let’s just say that Cole on pitching is like Steph Curry on shooting. So if MLB does not seek his insights as part of the large study it is undertaking because of lingering ill feelings due to his huge role with the MLB Players Association during the last labor stoppage, it is being petty, short-sighted and certainly not the needed adult in the room.

Cole was making those 25 throws from 60 feet because even the seemingly unbreakable righty is ensnared in this epidemic. He is going to miss at least two months due to nerve inflammation in his elbow. It was fitting that Cole had what he called a “really good day” on the night of the NCAA men’s basketball final. Because a key to the success of this season is whether the Yankees can survive and advance until their ace returns.

Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes #65 throws a pitch during the first inning. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“It’s like holding the fort while you’re waiting for some of your main guys to come back and Cole obviously is our main guy,” pitching coach Matt Blake said. “And so far, so good.”

That is because on Monday the Yankees also began a third time around the rotation without further injury and with no starter imploding. And they received their best start of 2024 from Nestor Cortes in what would become a 7-0 pasting of the overmatched Marlins.

Juan Soto hit a three-run homer and Anthony Volpe — with two more stellar defensive plays and his own three-run homer — again was the best player on the field. Volpe’s homer came on a 1-2 pitch and he is now 8-for-23 (.345) this year with two strikes. Last season he was a helpless 33-for-308, the .107 average fifth-worst among 203 players who had at least 200 plate appearances with two strikes.

Yet despite more two-way excellence, Volpe was not the most vital Yankee on Monday.

Gerrit Cole threw on Monday, but his return is still a ways off. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Aaron Boone did not want to say it in the pregame, but admitted afterward length was needed from a starter to protect a taxed pen. As Cortes said, “Five innings wasn’t going to cut it.” And so he became the first Yankees starter not named Gerrit Cole to record an out in the eighth inning since — drum roll, please — Domingo German threw his perfect game last June 28.

“As a staff we feel that way,” Cortes said of rising while Cole is down. “He’s our best pitcher, maybe the best in the game. He was our automatic ‘W’ last year. So as a staff, we have to pick up that slack. We have to be better. We have to make sure we’re holding our own and helping us win games until he gets back.”

Marcus Stroman showed some veteran savvy — and an ability to win without throwing hard every pitch. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Yankees were 23-10 when Cole started in his 2023 AL Cy Young season. They were 59-70 when he did not. So, this AL-best 9-2 beginning to the season without Cole is meaningful. The starting quintet has combined for a 2.78 ERA or roughly what Cole had last year (2.63).

That number was obviously helped by the eight shutout innings from Cortes on Monday, which also coincided with the 2024 Giants debut of Blake Snell, who the Yankees did not sign despite Cole’s injury. Not only did Cortes not walk a batter, the lefty never reached a three-ball count. He worked in an effective changeup against the over-aggressive Marlins hitters and was precise with his fastball.

With so much talk in recent days about whether maxing out on every pitch is at the core of so many pitching injuries, Cortes dominated with a fastball that didn’t average 90 mph (89.9). He said it was unintentional. He was not hurt. He was just cold and unable to fully unleash. But Cortes and also Marcus Stroman have what so few pitchers possess nowadays — art and craft to their game. They can add and subtract, dazzle with multiple angles and an array of pitches.

It does not assure health — both missed significant time with injury last season. But it does illustrate success in the modern game does not depend strictly on full force on every pitch.

And the Yankees need them — and Carlos Rodon, Clarke Schmidt and Luis Gil. At minimum, the rotation is going to have 12 turns before Cole is even eligible to return. But a reminder that Cortes, Stroman and Rodon have been All-Stars within the last two seasons. They have pedigree. And now they have a responsibility.

Survive and advance to get to Cole.


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