Analysis of Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole’s first rehab outing

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. -- From an organizational perspective, the Yankees’ goals for ace Gerrit Cole’s first rehab outing on Tuesday were appropriately modest: Get back into competitive action, react to the stresses that the game presented, get his pitch count up to 45 or 50, and bounce back healthy.

Cole checked all but the final box because it’s too soon to know how he will recover. But the newest Somerset Patriot -- who just happens to be the reigning American League Cy Young winner -- cruised through a definite step forward in his progression.

According to a source, Cole’s fastball touched 95 mph in a 43-pitch bullpen session last Thursday in Tampa. This created a reasonable expectation that he would sit 93-95 on Tuesday (Cole’s four-seam fastball averaged 96.7 mph last year).

Cole’s first pitch came in at 94 miles per hour, right at that range (the scoreboard had it at 96, but I was sitting in the scout section, where the guns were 1-3 mph lower throughout the game). He followed that by flipping an 80 mph curveball that was hit for a single.

By the end of a 10-pitch first, Cole had touched 95 three times and 96 twice. He mixed in at least one cutter.

As the outing progressed, he might have touched 97 mph, or might have topped out at 96 -- frankly, guns aren’t always that precise, depending on the distance and angle from the mound.

But that mile per hour or two does not matter one bit. The upshot was that Cole’s heater sat right where it needed to be: Not quite as powerful as when he is in top form and touches 99 and 100, but perfect for a first rehab outing.

Remember, this is a pitcher whose spring training elbow injury jolted the organization and fan base with fears that he would miss the entire season.

Instead, it’s June 4, and the scene in Bridgewater was joyous. With three top Yankee officials in attendance and surely pleased with what they saw, Cole walked off the mound with one out in the third inning. A standing-room-only crowd exploded in an ovation so thunderous that Cole waved in appreciation.

By then, he had thrown 45 pitches, 34 for strikes, struck out five and allowed two singles, one walk and no runs.

The Hartford Yard Goats, Eastern League affiliates of the Colorado Rockies, did not present Cole with many stresses, but he responded to one in characteristic fashion.

With two outs and nobody on in the second, Cole had Hartford’s Braxton Fulford in a 1-2 hole. Fulford put up a respectable fight, fouling off fastballs, sliders and cutters. Finally, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Cole decided that the dance was over. He reached back for one of his 96, maybe 97 mph fastballs and induced a weak flyout to right.

Cole threw all his pitches. His velocity was on target, and while his slider at times lacked the bite that you’d see at Yankee Stadium in mid-August, it was clearly coming along. That’s what the next few rehab outings are for.

As long as Cole wakes up on Wednesday feeling healthy, and stays that way over the next few days, the night was as successful as anyone could have hoped.