HOUSTON — Gerrit Cole scored the richest contract for a pitcher in history in December 2019, based in large part on how he pitched for the Astros.
In his return to Minute Maid Park with the Yankees, things aren’t quite as good for Cole. Since MLB began cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances, he hasn’t looked the same.
Cole had a 1.78 ERA in 11 starts before word of a crackdown began to come out on June 3, and has a 5.24 ERA in six starts since.
The right-hander again acknowledged he was making adjustments, but also dismissed the notion that the two are related — even after consecutive ugly starts against the Red Sox and Mets, in which Cole gave up nine earned runs and four homers in just 8 ¹/₃ innings.
“At this point, it has nothing to do with the rule enforcement of four or five weeks ago,” Cole said before the Yankees opened their series against the Astros on Friday night. “There are ebbs and flows to your delivery as the game goes on throughout the season. We have to tighten up some stuff and we have to try to do that here against good teams. That’s what my focus has been and that’s what we’ve identified as a group needs to tick up.”
Ticking down has been the problem.
Cole’s spin rates — which can be improved by using sticky substances — have dropped since the crackdown.
In his last outing, Sunday against the Mets, his spin rates were down from his season average on all of his pitches.
In particular, he was down 246 revolutions per minute on his slider (which he only threw five of) and 149 on his four-seam fastball (which he threw 47 of).
In each of six starts since June 3, Cole’s spin rates have been below his season average for almost every pitch, aside from his curveball and changeup on June 9 against the Twins and his slider on June 3 against the Rays.
Asked about the most recent numbers Cole said: “I hate to continue to backtrack. I try to move forward, but that was a really bad first inning. Highly opportunistic damage done on pitches. We settled in and pitched well after that. The following start, as we continue to dive into it with the Mets, again we weren’t forcing enough issues on the edge of the plate and continued to miss on the outside of the zone. Those are intent changes, those are delivery-focus changes.”
Cole said he intends to stay aggressive Saturday so he can get ahead on counts.
It will be his final start before the All-Star break. Asked Friday if he intends to pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver, Cole said, “I think so,” but he and the Yankees will discuss it following Saturday’s start.
It’s an outing Cole called “important.”
“It’s a good team we’re playing against, somebody the American League measures themselves against and if they continue to play well, we’ll have to overcome them in the postseason,” Cole said.
If Cole and his teammates don’t play better than they have throughout the first half, the Astros might not even need to face the Yankees in the playoffs.
“As a group, we’ve had ups and downs,’’ Cole said. “It would be good to close it out on a good note.”