After eight innings of intense, composed stares on the mound, a smile broke across the face of Gerrit Cole Wednesday at Tropicana Field, and rightfully so. As the team deals with a Covid-19 outbreak, Cole gave everyone a reason to smile.
With seven confirmed positive cases, he focused on the task at hand, delivering the New York Yankees a 1-0 victory and their first series win in Tampa Bay since 2019. For Cole, it was a nice distraction.
“We gotta focus on winning the game,” he said. “So we take our minds off of everything that’s happened over the last few days and kind of take a break from it because that’s our job.”
Even without the Covid-19 outbreak and the series victory, Cole’s dominance was plenty to smile over. His 106th pitch was just as impressive as his first – both swinging strikes. Sandwiched in between were 12 strikeouts compared to four hits and zero walks. One of those strikeouts was his 1,500th, making him the second-fastest pitcher to reach the mark behind Randy Johnson.
With a lot on the line, Wednesday was the latest in a growing list of great performances by the Yankees’ ace in his first 20 starts with the team.
“I think he lives for pitching when it’s tough and in the biggest of games,” manager Aaron Boone said.
It didn’t matter how Gerrit Cole got the job done so long as he helped distract from the Covid-19 outbreak. Still, the way he did so shows his evolution as a pitcher, and that was evident against the Tampa Bay Rays. According to Baseball Savant, he is throwing the highest percentage of changeups in his career, so far, at 15.1%. Of his 106 pitches, 19 were changeups. Those pitches resulted in six balls in play, three called strikes, two whiffs, and one foul ball. The only hit off of the pitch was a bunt single.
The higher usage of the changeups is enough to make hitters worry about it. That is, on top of worrying about his 99-mph-fastball, slider, and curveball.
Cole and Kyle Higashioka understand that hitters might be more conscious of his fastball and breaking pitches. Therefore, they look for the perfect moments to fool hitters with the offspeed pitch.
“In a situation where I can be a bit unpredictable, there’s maybe a but little more margin for error with a pitch that somebody’s not expecting,” Cole said. “Kyle and I try to take advantage of those situations without getting beat on our fourth-best pitch.”
Changing Eye Level
Some of his best work came with changing the eye level of the Rays batters, effectively elevating his fastball. If Cole wasn’t elevating his fastball to finish off a batter, he did so to set them up for something offspeed low in the zone. The end result was the Rays being off balance all night.
Cole emptied the tank in the eighth inning by striking out the side in order. Pitch 106 was a 98.8 mph fastball to strike out Brett Phillips.
“He did a really good job of staying in his lanes and executing everything all game so I thought that was impressive,” Higashioka said.
As Covid-19 runs through the Yankees’ clubhouse, plenty of anxiety comes with it. Although the team is vaccinated, the fear of contracting the virus is still prevalent.
With his dominance, with his four-pitch mix, and with his rare smile in the dugout, Gerrit Cole helped distract his teammates from the outbreak, and he delivered a much-needed series victory against their toughest division rival.
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