Gerrit Cole is convinced he is close. The velocity is there, and the movement on his pitches has not abandoned him.
It is his precision that has been absent through three starts this season, including a disastrous, five-out, five-walk outing Tuesday in Detroit.
As he and the Yankees pored over the video to uncover where he had erred, the answer was on the periphery.
“It’s not like I’m trying to throw the ball on one side of the plate and I’m missing on the other side of the plate,” Cole said before the Yankees beat the Guardians, 5-4, at the Stadium on Saturday. “I’m trying to throw the ball, and I’m missing just outside the strike zone.”
He hopes to correct the near misses Sunday against Cleveland in what projects to be as significant as a late-April game at the Stadium can be. Do the Yankees truly have a problem with their $324 million ace, or is he just settling in after an expedited spring training messed with everyone’s schedules?
Cole said he believes it is the latter. He said the issues through three brief starts, after which his ERA sits at 6.35, have been a pursuit of perfection, rather than just relying upon his stuff.
“I think it’s kind of small adjustments really. We were going for really perfect pitches I think probably too often — I was,” said Cole, who threw just 5 ¹/₃ innings in the Grapefruit League leading up to the season. “I think that just in certain situations if I just attacked the zone better, we would have been in a better spot. So that’s what we worked on this week.”
Too often, he has had to fight back into counts. Last season, he threw a first-pitch strike 66.8 percent of the time. This season, that mark has plunged to a career-worst 42 percent.
He falls behind, tries to paint a corner and buries himself further. If he can correct the accuracy at the start of counts, he believes the problem can solve itself.
The Yankees’ staff has thrived aside from Cole, and despite the ace’s struggles, the rotation finished Saturday with a sparkling 2.87 ERA. Luis Severino (2.08), Jordan Montgomery (2.51), Jameson Taillon (3.07) and Nestor Cortes (1.15) have more than compensated through his early struggles.
If Cole, whose stuff still resembles the stuff that made him a superstar, finds himself and the corners, the rotation could be mighty.
In the meantime, the Yankees and his family and friends believe this will turn.
“There’s a lot of people that have watched me for a long time, my folks and my wife and my teammates. People have offered some advice or … like a hug or something,” Cole said with a laugh.
The best advice was from his young son, Caden: “Relax.”