Although the adage from baseball players is that they are simply playing a kids’ game, it is still their job. Like any job, one day at work can make or break a player’s mood, depending on how work goes. As a smile spread across the face of Gerrit Cole throughout his post-game Zoom press conference, it is evident that he had a good day at the office.
Anyone who watched Cole pitch Wednesday night did not need to see his post-game facial features to know that he pitched great against the Toronto Blue Jays. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, struck out eight in seven innings, and won his 100th career game. However, his smile while talking about what went well symbolizes that he has had a stretch of excellent days at work.
“I feel like my delivery was very good tonight,” Cole said. “I feel like it’s been improving the last three starts. Certainly tonight the lower half was really well in sync.”
Cole has put his mid-season struggles behind him, stringing together three-consecutive impressive starts with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate. Higashioka is a familiar face in the New York Yankees clubhouse for Cole as the two first met as teenagers while playing together in California.
“We did some scout ball, like area code stuff,” Cole said. “…We’re from similar areas so I’ve just known him for a long time.”
Gerrit Cole consistently praised the work of Gary Sanchez behind the plate when the two worked together earlier in the year, and he had success with Sanchez as his battery mate before a couple of subpar outings.
With 27 strikeouts and a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings pitched with Higashioka, it is evident he has reached another level of dominance while throwing to a familiar face. Cole enjoys throwing to Higashioka, and he gives credit to all of the Yankees catchers, but he also thinks it comes down to his execution.
“I think all three of our catchers do a great job behind the plate,” Cole said. “I think, certainly, the communication has been good and the confidence has been good, as well, as of late, but I also think I’m just settling in and executing more pitches than not.”
Gerrit Cole's last three starts, all with Kyle Higashioka behind the plate:
20 IP, 2 ER (0.90 ERA)
9 H, 5 BB, 27 K
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) September 17, 2020
There is no denying the success that Cole has had during this stretch. Although three games are not a large sample, they do comprise 27% of his starts in 2020, and they show that the two work well together. He looks locked in, and his stuff has been consistently unhittable. This has been a trend as evident by his not allowing a hit the first time through the order in any of those three starts.
Start By Start
Their first start together came on Saturday, September 5th. In that game, Gerrit Cole retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced through five innings against the Baltimore Orioles. He did allow five runs in the sixth inning although only one was earned after a Thairo Estrada throwing error. He struck out ten of the 25 batters he faced that night.
The two came back six days later against the same Orioles team. Cole did not allow a hit until the fifth inning in that start. He finished with nine strikeouts in a seven-inning complete game shutout.
Finally, the two repeated this trend again Wednesday night. His final line was seven innings pitched, allowing one run on three hits and two walks.
Higashioka enjoys working with Cole, too.
“We have a pretty good understanding of how each other likes to attack the hitters, and between innings we always have a good dialogue,” Higashioka said.
While he admits the two have a good rapport he also downplays the significance of their history playing together, mentioning the inability to really get to know someone back then.
“Scout league back in California, you’re just there for the game, but here you spend so much time with him in the clubhouse,” Higashioka said. “You get more of a chance to get to know the guy.”
The success is not one-sided, either. Four of Higashioka’s nine hits on the season have come in this three-start stretch. All four of those hits are home runs.
Normally when a pitcher performs well with a certain catcher, a personal catcher becomes an option. After a three-homer game Wednesday night, Cole feels he may become Higashioka’s personal pitcher.
Both players appear to downplay the significance of their personal histories together. Regardless, it is evident that the two bring out the best in each other on the field.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images