NEW YORK – The crowd noise was phony. Gerrit Cole’s scowl was real.
The new ace gave up consecutive home runs to Mike Ford and Miguel Andújar in an intrasquad game as the pitcher and the public-address system's recorded crowd sounds tuned up for New York Yankees debuts.
Those runs in the fourth inning were the only ones Cole allowed over 5 2/3 innings Friday night. He struck out seven, walked none and hit a batter, throwing 87 pitches.
“The back-to-back homers were undesirable from my perspective,” he said. “Just kind of got into a position there where I was spraying some breaking balls and just kind of became noncompetitive. And I got in some fastball situations where I had to challenge, guys. It was kind of a predictable count, and then they got their swing off.”
Next up is the opener of the pandemic-delayed major league season, at the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Thursday night in a matchup against Max Scherzer.
“Gosh, it’s going to be fun,” Cole said. “It’s going to have fake crowd noise, and going to be 2020 coronavirus baseball.”
New York started experimenting with artificial crowd noise Friday at Yankee Stadium, where just one of the 50,000 or seats was filled, by what appeared to be a employee watching from the fifth row behind home plate. With the Yankees prepping for the start of the season in empty ballparks, the level was low at the start and got more exuberant, even for routine fly balls.
“Early in the day, I really didn’t like it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It sounded kind of like we were trying to tune in our AM radio and trying to find the station and we couldn’t find it. I felt a little better with it during the game. It did feel a little bit more natural. So, hopefully, there’s some tweaking of it.”
Cole took the mound to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” the usual warmup music for the 29-year-old right-hander. He thought the crowd noise was a work in progress.
“It’s not the same, right? It kind of sounds the same, I guess, if you’re in your zone and you’re and you’re not really paying attention,” he said. “But Yankee fans sound a lot better than the manufactured sound. Just the general energy of people in the park is not there. But there was probably a moment or two of it just kind of being normal, I guess, from a certain extent.”
He also has to get used to the pandemic rule that calls for each pitcher to have his own grip material rather than to share,
“Worked out a little bit of the rosin bag situation,” he said, saying that if a staff member is not responsible then “I need to take it out and bring it back on kind of every inning because at one point we had like three or four out there and somebody’s going to trip over it.”
Signed to a $324 million, nine-year contract, the largest deal for a pitcher, he is tied for the highest salary this season with the Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout at $36 million.
Major League Baseball’s initial proposal to start the pandemic-delayed season would have cut Cole’s guaranteed pay to $5.58 million, but with the collapse of labor talks he would receive $13,333,333 in prorated pay if all 60 games are played.
“I think anytime those kind of negotiations spill out into the public they leave a bad taste, not only in the fans’ mouth but on both sides of the line,” he said. “I certainly didn’t take it as kind of being singled out. We think as a group, we think as a unit, and we just try to make the best decision for the integrity of the game and how we go about that. And so taking it personally -- no. It is unfortunate it was so public.”
Ford pulled a pitch into the right-field bullpen, and Andújar followed with an opposite-field shot to nearly the same spot.
Cole pitched out of second-and-third, one-out trouble in the fifth. Andujar also homered in Cole’s first intrasquad, on July 7.
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu returned to workouts after missing nearly two weeks with COVID-19. LeMahieu took grounders at second base and was to hit indoors. Boone said the team has mapped out the next four-to-five days and he was not sure LeMahieu will be ready for the opener.
Outfielder Clint Frazier said on his decision to wear a mask while playing. “I got a lot of positive feedback. I got a lot of negative feedback, as well, just from wearing the mask. A lot of people have their own opinions,” he said. “I got called a sheep by some people, but it’s all good. Obviously, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But with the situation that we’re in, with how fragile this this virus is for some people, I’m not really too worried about the negative feedback because moving forward, I think it’s the right thing to protect myself, others around me and everyone else that everyone goes home to.”
Right-hander Adam Warren, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, was released from his minor league contract. Warren won’t be ready to pitch at the major league level until next year and the Yankees could re-sign him.
Boone said he will not take several regulars to Citi Field on Saturday to face the Mets for the first of three exhibitions. The Mets are at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, and Philadelphia and former manager Joe Girardi are in the Bronx on Sunday.
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