TAMPA — Every day, there arrives a fresh batch of obstacles designed to break the Yankees’ gait toward 110 victories: Luis Severino’s elbow. Giancarlo Stanton’s calf. James Paxton’s back. Saturday, it was Aaron Judge’s turn, as he showed up late at the clubhouse because he’d begun a fresh battery of tests on his ailing right shoulder.
Now, yes, it bears remembering that these are the talent-rich and roster-deep Yankees, so this daily gathering of dark clouds affects neither them nor their long-range plans the way it would most other teams in baseball. The Yankees are used to making do with whatever they have on hand. They’ll do that again.
Still, even Yankees need to be reassured once in a while
Even Yankees can use a day to step back and admire just what their new normal looks like. So it was a nice break of scheduling when Gerrit Cole walked to the mound at George M. Steinbrenner Field to face the Detroit Tigers (a team that will likely spend this year trying to think about anything but their new normal).
So here came Cole for a 2²/₃-inning shift to allow Yankees fans to remember just how good they are going to feel every fifth day this year. Cole threw 30 pitches, 21 of them for strikes, all with a distinct purpose: A fastball that wandered to each favorable corner of the strike zone, a curveball whose speed he was able to mix up nicely.
“My command was a lot better today than the last time out,” Cole said. “We were able to throw down in the zone when we wanted and then up when we wanted to.”
Of course, he tends toward perfection, so there was also this: “There were a couple of soft-serve changeups that were non-competitive.”
In all there were two strikeouts and two scratch singles. The original plan was for Cole to pitch two innings, doubling the total from his debut, but he breezed through in just 24 pitches, so Yankees manager Aaron Boone wanted him to face one more batter. Then, that batter — Travis Demeritte — grounded to first on the first pitch Cole threw in the third.
Boone, a smile on his face — and why not, he deserves a break from the storm clouds too, no? — emerged from the dugout and asked Cole if he wanted one more hitter. Cole, a team player as much as anything else on his résumé, didn’t want to hog the work, didn’t want to upset the workdays of Luis Cessa and Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino and the others scheduled to put in some time. But he agreed to one more.
And when he struck out Detroit center fielder Danny Woodrow, he strode from the mound after a spotless — and, more important, entirely comfortable — outing feeling awfully good about things, with less than a month to go before Opening Day in Baltimore on March 26.
“I think we had a good routine today,” Cole said, bringing his catcher, Gary Sanchez, into the discussion. “Gary and I are getting settled with analytics and the whole new routine for how it’ll flow here. I was out there competing. It was good.”
Said Boone: “I thought he was really good. His stuff was really good and he was extended more than last time. Really efficient. Another good day of work for him.”
And a good reminder around the Yankees and their fans that while the sky may seem to be falling one chunk at a time this spring, it’s still impossibly blue most of the time, especially when they hand No. 45 the ball. Cole laughed when he was asked if one of his goals was to help restore a sense of normalcy.
“Honestly, I was focused on the job,” he said. “All those guys will heal up and do their routines. I don’t have to be in on everything. I just kept my normal routine.”
Normal works for the Yankees right about now. Normal is the gold standard.