Coming into the season, the rotation was the single biggest concern with the New York Yankees. They went upside over reliability with offseason additions Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, and it’s unclear what Domingo German can provide after serving a domestic violence suspension last year. There are some questions to answer, for sure.
Every five days though, the Yankees can rest easy handing the ball to Gerrit Cole, and Cole turned in a gem Tuesday night against the Orioles (NYY 7, BAL 2). Cole struck out 13 in seven scoreless innings, and he retired the final 12 batters he faced. The 13 strikeouts tie his highest total as a Yankee, set in Game 1 of last year’s Wild Card Series against Cleveland.
“He just never had that lull. He was on the attack all night,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, after Tuesday’s game.
The 13 strikeouts are the most by any pitcher in a game in the early going this season, beating out the 12 strikeouts recorded by Shane Bieber and Jose Berrios. Corbin Burnes (11), Zack Wheeler (10), Trevor Bauer (10), and Yusei Kikuchi (10) were the only other pitchers with double-digit strikeouts in a game prior to Tuesday.
Cole also generated 27 swings and misses Tuesday — 27 misses on 53 swings for a ridiculous 51 percent whiff rate — easily the highest total in baseball this year. No other pitcher has had more than 22 swings and misses in a game in 2021, and only six times did a pitcher record 27 swings and misses in 2020 (Jacob deGrom three times and Cole, Bieber, and Lucas Giolito once each).
By Game Score, a metric that scores a pitching performance based on outcomes (strikeouts, hits, runs, etc.), Tuesday’s start was Cole’s best as a Yankee and one of the 10 best in his career. He last had a comparable Game Score during his incredible second half run with the Astros in 2019.
Cole is only the sixth pitcher in Yankees history with 13 strikeouts and zero walks in a scoreless outing, joining Masahiro Tanaka, Mike Mussina (twice), David Wells, John Candelaria, and Rob Guidry. The last MLB pitcher to turn in such a start was Bieber last July. No other pitcher did it in 2020.
Interestingly, Cole appears to be incorporating his changeup more often this year. He threw 14 changeups Tuesday and 14 changeups on Opening Day. Only twice from 2018-20 did he throw that many changeups in a start (both in 2019). It’s too early to say whether this is a new plan of attack, though it has been effective.
And because this is a thing, I will note Kyle Higashioka was behind the plate Tuesday, not Gary Sanchez. Higashioka took over as Cole’s personal catcher late last year,. Sanchez started the last three games and had the night off Tuesday.
As for the rest of New York’s pitching staff, the Yankees went into Tuesday’s game with a 1.70 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP as a staff. One turn through the rotation, everything is going according to plan.