TAMPA — Until Sunday, Roger Clemens’ initial batting practice session 21 years ago inside Legends Field was the standard for excitement generated by a new Yankees pitcher.
The bar has been raised after Gerrit Cole’s one-inning outing against four hitters at Steinbrenner Field.
Fellow pitchers James Paxton, Luis Severino and Zack Britton watched from behind screens off to the right of home plate with GM Brian Cashman. Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake stood to the side of the video machine, located behind a screen in the back of the mound that captured Cole’s every movement. Cashman’s lieutenants, Jim Hendry and Tim Naehring, sat in the sun-baked seats behind the plate and close to third base coach Phil Nevin, who was perched on a box-seat wall.
And when Cole completed a 27-pitch workout that consisted of only fastballs and changeups, a crowd of roughly 1,000 applauded the right-hander tasked with the challenge of leading the Yankees to their first World Series title since 2009.
“It was the first time I got a standing ovation for having my first live BP. I can tell you that,” said Cole, who previously pitched for the Pirates and Astros prior to signing a nine-year deal for $324 million in December to become the face of the Yankees’ pitching staff.
Clemens came from the Blue Jays on the eve of spring training in 1999, and his first BP session was known for Derek Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch donning catchers gear to face the game’s best pitcher who thrived on throwing inside.
“I liked the way I felt, a good sweat,” Cole said of his work which was highlighted by every movement having a purpose. “Pushed the tolerance at the end and felt like I got a little bit fatigued. I felt like I got some good work in.”
Cole said he will throw another live BP session in preparation for his exhibition season debut. Since that is scheduled for Saturday at Steinbrenner Field against the Blue Jays and will be televised by YES to Yankees fans everywhere, figure Cole will be Boone’s starter.
Working with catcher Gary Sanchez, Cole faced minor league imports Hemmanuel Rosario, Matt Pita, Alex Guerrero and Yankees backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, who spanked a poorly located changeup to left field.
“He hadn’t swing at the fastball yet and I threw a poorly located changeup in a swing count,” Cole said of that pitch.
Cole also threw a pitch that appeared to be a breaking ball, but wasn’t.
“Poor changeup, I pulled it,” Cole said.
According to Cole, the emphasis wasn’t on the changeup or fastball.
“The biggest focus was hit the volume, feel good, not get too far past fatigue and try to keep the action on my fastball every time,” Cole said.
It was the third time Cole was paired with Sanchez, who this camp has been asked to improve on framing pitches in the bottom of the strike zone.
“It’s three times,” Cole said when asked about his rapport with Sanchez. “It’s as good as it can go for three times.”
From a broadcast booth and the opposing dugout, Boone witnessed Cole’s intensity and attention to detail. Sunday he saw it live in a controlled setting.
“Just another peak behind kind of the competitor and intensity and the confidence he has when he gets on the mound and the seriousness with which he takes it,” Boone said of his 29-year-old staff ace, who took his first BP session as serious as Clemens did and set the standard for the next high-profile pitcher the Yankees import.