Yankee ace Gerrit Cole and relief pitcher Zack Britton met individually with a handful of baseball writers Friday afternoon via Zoom at Yankee Stadium. Both Cole and Britton were on hand to discuss the status of their preparation, as the Bronx Bombers move towards their season debut on opening day, July 23. With that respective date rapidly approaching, Cole and Britton shared their excitement and joy for reasons that extend pass the playing field.
The general consensus was that both players were elated to be back on the diamond doing what the love most—pitching.
“It’s been a long summer for everybody,” Cole said. Cole joined the Yankees last year, when he signed with the team as a free agent in the off season. “I’m thrilled to get back on the field.”
Britton’s sentiment was right on par with Cole’s.
“It’s exciting to be back at Yankee Stadium. It’s nice to get back in the swing of things a little and to get this thing started.”
Cole pitched a simulated three innings against a series of batters, three days ago. And as we reported here [NYSportsday], Yankees Pitching Coach, Matt Blake, was impressed with his right-handed phenom. Blake revealed that Cole’s pitches had reached up to speeds of 99 MPH.
“As far as where I’m at now, it’s a great baseline. I threw three innings yesterday, about 40 to 45 pitches at normal velocity,” Cole said.
The Yankees’ first full-team workout was scheduled for today [7/4]. The Yankees open up the season on the road in Washington D.C. against the Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champions. The 29-year-old Cole is slated to start the game. Cole is also expected to go head-to-head with Nationals pitching virtuoso Max Scherzer. As a member of the Houston Astros, Cole competed against Scherzer in the 2019 World Series.
“[Brett] Gardner called it in a group chat…I’m excited. It’s an enticing matchup with pitching against them in the World Series last year. Hopefully it draws some good attention,” Cole said.
Cole had indicated during the virtual conference call, that he expects to be placed on a regularly scheduled five-day swing, with just an additional day while in training to prevent any overexertion. As what was previously discussed by this news outlet, Cole remained active during the shutdown, which was caused by the global pandemic. Cole trained with teammate, starting pitcher and neighbor Adam Ottavino.
Cole’s concerted effort paid dividends, as he was able to transition smoothly into “Spring Training 2.0” with minimal issues. It was also advantageous for him to have his head coach; Manager Aaron Boone reside in the same town that he lives in. Boone would frequently pop up at Cole’s and Ottavino’s workout sessions to evaluate the performance of both his starter and relief pitcher.
“It was a real team effort to stay in shape,” Cole said with regards to being mobile.
As for Britton, he was able to participate in his first bullpen affair of the year. In relation to his outing, Britton exhibited a confident glow.
“I feel good. I feel like if we had to play right now, I could pitch and be fine based on the work I did at home,” he said. “Getting back in the competitive atmosphere again is the biggest thing for a lot of guys.”
And just like Cole grinded, Britton put in the work too, whenever he was home. Britton is anticipating having to face hitters for the first time on Sunday [7/5]. Britton feels that he is ready for all challenges that will present themselves.
With the new norm of social distancing in place, both Cole and Britton were asked to comment if they felt safe while at the ballpark. Cole and Britton are well aware of the risks that they are assuming. A player could test positive for the coronavirus or arrive at the ballpark feeling sick.
“I have faith we can get through this and get through this safely,” Cole said. “If we can bring some smiles to faces and joy in this time, and keep ourselves safe and set an example of how we go about work on the field in this pandemic…we’re looking forward to these opportunities. That’s why I’m here. To take that burden on and take it in stride. I’m honored to do it.”
Britton responded similarly, “It’s been a while. It’s good to see everybody.” “It’s definitely different to not be able to hug each other and do things in close quarters like usual. Everyone is respecting each other’s space and wearing masks in the clubhouse. Everyone is being conscious and giving space.”
Britton was one of the representatives from the Major League Baseball Players Association [MLBPA] present to negotiate with other team owners during the collective bargaining agreement, that took place during the layoff. Britton disclosed that the negotiations weren’t supposed to be made public and that it was unfortunate that they did.
“Now that we’re back playing, that’s my focus. Everything in between during negotiations was a difficult time for the game. The focus is now on getting back to baseball,” he said.
The New York Yankees are expected to compete in 60 games. Of all the games listed on the schedule, 40 of them are divisional games, while the remaining matchups  will all be interleague play. Secondly, all of the games will be played in empty ballparks; no spectators whatsoever. Britton conveyed that it’s going to be difficult playing in an empty stadium.
During Cole’s 22-minute back-and-forth dialogue with the media, there was one fun fact that he shared with those present. On Tuesday, June 30, Cole and his wife Amy welcomed their first child. Amy gave birth to healthy baby boy named Caden Gerrit Cole at 7:47. [It was unclear if the delivery was in the morning or evening.] As per Cole, both mom and Caden are doing just fine.
Outside of that exciting piece of news, Cole also alluded to the fact that both Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are healthy. Cole faced Judge and Hicks at the plate during the recent mock drill. Whether this clean bill of health will last the extent of the season, remains to be seen.
The Yankees signed Cole for a total of nine years for the price of $324 million. It’s almost redundant and a waste of time to obtain any type of confirmation as to what the objective for the season is. A year ago, Cole was only eight outs away from clinching his first “chip”. But if Cole were to accomplish this feat while wearing pinstripes, what would be the significance of winning a championship during this particular time and climate?
“It’s going to be a different season,” Cole said. “There’s only going to be one coronavirus World Series champion and that’s unique in and of itself. And I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to take that trophy home, especially when you’re competing against your peers and there’s only going to be one of them”.