Sunday, April 16, 2023

Cole Shuts Out Twins, In What Boone Calls "Big-Time Performance"

Gerrit Cole striking out Byron Buxton in the fourth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole continued his hot start to the season, as he threw a complete game, two-hit shutout against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, as the Bronx Bombers went on to win 2-0 to earn a split in their four-game series.

Cole was masterful in this one, as he faced the minimum batters through Minnesota having two outs in the fifth, as he only allowed a walk to that point, to Trevor Larnach to open the second inning, and he was erased in a Jose Miranda double play.

Donovan Solano got the Twins' first hit when he dunked one into left field, and then Max Kepler grounded one back to Cole to end the frame. 

The Twins' other hit came an inning later when Michael A. Taylor singled with one out, and then Cole made a great play fielding an Edouard Julien bunt to retire him, while Taylor moved to second as the tying run at the time. 

Gerrit Cole firing to first to retire Edouard Julien, who bunted in the sixth. Photo by Jason Schott.

Yankees nemesis Carlos Correa was up next, and Cole got him to bounce out to third base to end the frame. The highlight of that Correa at-bat was when Cole brushed him back and knocked him down. This brought a big cheer from the Yankee faithful who still lustily boo the former Houston Astro, who was a part of their 2017 championship team that was found to have stolen signs.

Carlos Correa fell down as he avoided high heat from Gerrit Cole in the sixth. Photo by Jason Schott. 

DJ LeMahieu, who singled home the Yankees' first run in the third inning, struck again in the sixth, as he blasted one to right field that just cleared the fence for his second dinger of the season, and that made it 2-0 Yankees. 

Those runs both came off Minnesota starter Pablo Lopez, who went six innings, and allowed those two runs (both earned) on seven hits and a walk, with seven strikeouts, to keep the Twins in the game.

The two outs Cole recorded to end the sixth would begin a stretch where he retired the final 11 Twins he faced, and Correa made the final out on a light fly ball to right field.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, in his postgame press conference, said  that "his command of everything" is what stood out about his outing. "You know, he's in rhythm with the clock, he's just, whatever happens out there, and look, a lot of things obviously went right today, so there wasn't a lot of, you know, adversity, but he's just handling situation after situation so well, but I think it's his fastball command and the fact that he's pressuring in a lot of different places in the strike zone has been huge for him. You know, his secondary stuff, I thought, all played an important role, all of them, but that's a big-time performance right there. He's a special pitcher, and he's just in a really locked-in focused place."

In addition to just allowing two hits, Cole surrendered only one walk, and he struck out 10. That marked his 23rd double-digit strikeout performance, which ties Ron Guidry for the most in Yankees franchise history.

Carlos Correa heads back to the dugout after striking out against Cole, who's walking by the mound, in the fourth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

Cole is now 4-0 on the season, and he lowered his ERA (earned run average) to 0.95. This is the second time in his career he has won his first four starts of a season, the first instance being 2013 while he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is just the third Yankees pitcher in the last 39 years (starting with 1985) to win each of his first four starts, with the other two being Mike Mussina, who won his first seven to open the 2003 season, and David Cone, who won his first four in 1995.

The right-hander, who is in his fourth season in pinstripes, has allowed just three earned runs in 28.1 innings pitched, and is now the second Yankees starting pitcher in the last 65 years (1959 on) to post as low of an ERA through his first four appearances of a season, as Tommy John had an 0.83 when he did it.

On Cole's domination in these four starts, Boone said, "I think the fact that he's pressuring his fastball to so many different places in the zone. He's got a presence inside, he's been really good up in the zone, down, away, but command of that, and when, you know, it makes you a little less predictable, it makes you a little less comfortable hunting a certain, you know, quadrant a spot because he is mixing more, but on top of that, you've got to be able to command it, and that's what he's doing great."

It's a bit early for Cy Young Award talk, but Cole has never won one in his career, and Boone was asked if that surprised him, "Yeah, probably; he's gonna get one, maybe more. He's going to be in that conversation, and has been now for a number of years. He's in a great place right now, and look forward to seeing him going out there in a few days."

AARON HICKS: The one downside of the afternoon for the Yankees, as it is a lot of days lately, was the performance of left fielder Aaron Hicks, who struck out in each of his three at-bats. He was booed throughout the game, and slammed his helmet following each K, and after his final strikeout in the sixth, he immediately began walking to left field at such a rapid pace that he nearly ran into the grounds crew out manicuring the dirt, as "YMCA" began to play. 

Aaron Hicks heading to left field, as the Yankees grounds crew works, after his strikeout in the sixth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.


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