Armed with a fastball that can hum at 100 mph into the late innings, and an array of other plus-pitches, New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole’s talent, and ability to create spin on the baseball, has made for an elite arsenal.
And across the board, Cole’s spin rates were sharply down during his last start.
"I attribute it to just not being as good or as sharp as I wanted to be," Cole said Tuesday of his last outing, when he yielded five runs in five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But Cole is no stranger to the suggestion that his spin rates have been aided by sticky substances, which MLB is now intent on enforcing in this season of high strikeouts and low batting averages.
Last week, Minnesota Twins third baseman and former AL MVP Josh Donaldson wondered aloud to reporters about the timing of Cole’s noticeably reduced spin rates.
Four minor league pitchers had just been suspended 10 games for using foreign substances.
New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) walks off the field during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. (Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
“Kind of felt it was a bit of low-hanging fruit,’’ Cole said of Donaldson’s comments, during a week when MLB owners agreed to crack down on sticky substances in the game.
“But he’s entitled to his opinion and to voice his opinion,’’ Cole said, adding that as a member of the baseball union’s executive council, “my role is to facilitate communication about all things involved in the game.
“I’m open to doing that, it’s part of my role. If anyone has a concern regarding anything, we’re always available to reach out and talk if there needs to be some clarifications.’’
Cole carefully worded his responses on the subject Thursday, before the Yankees opened a series at Minnesota against Donaldson's team.
That included a long pause when asked directly if he had ever applied Spider Tack – a product designed to enhance the grip for power weightlifters, among other non-baseball intended uses – to his pitching hand to better grip a baseball.
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“I don’t know how to quite answer that, to be honest,’’ Cole said before moving into a tacit acknowledgement of MLB’s open secret.
“There’s customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players,’’ Cole said, adding that “there are some things that are certainly out of balance in that regard.
“And I’ve stood pretty firm in terms of that, in terms of communication between our peers and whatnot.’'
New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. (Photo: Andy Marlin, Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
Cole was one of several big-name pitchers mentioned in a since-dismissed wrongful termination lawsuit by a Los Angeles Angels' visiting clubhouse attendant of having been provided a foreign substance to apply to baseballs to gain a better grip.
A text message, alleged to have been sent by Cole about obtaining the mixture, was included in the suit.
Fair playing field
Application of a dab of pine tar or a resin/sunscreen mix, especially in cool, dry conditions, has been generally accepted if it’s not done overtly.
There is an acknowledgment that hitters do not want the alternative of ducking wayward 98-mph pitches due to a slipped grip.
But stuff like Spider Tack and crazy spin rates have altered the landscape.
“This is important to a lot of people that love the game,’’ Cole said, speaking generally on the subject of sticky substances.
“If MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, that’s a conversation that we can have because ultimately, we should all be pulling in the same direction on this.’’
At the same time as Cole’s spin-rate decline, reigning NL Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer also saw a spin-rate decrease his last start.
Cole’s staff mate at UCLA, Bauer has thrown shade at Cole in the past for his increased spin rates once he landed with the Houston Astros in 2018.
Avoiding any personal grievances, Cole again offered that “people are entitled to their opinions’’ and that his focus was to “get better every day.
“Just have more things on my plate that are important for us to win games right now,’’ Cole said. “I’m not thrilled about it, but…I just have to kind of leave it where it is.’’
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