NEW YORK — For the first time in a month, Gerrit Cole threw a baseball.

On Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, shelved since early March due to elbow discomfort, played catch from 60 feet. Fortunately for him and the Yankees, Cole felt no pain in his affected ligament. And while he declined to share a specific timetable for his return to play, Monday appeared to be a step in the right direction.

“It went really well,” he said. “It was a good day.”

Cole, by his own estimation, is one of the lucky ones.

The Yankees’ ace is just one of a swath of MLB hurlers who have suffered some type of elbow pain since spring training began in mid-February. In the past week alone, NL Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider, 2020 AL Cy Young Shane Bieber and 20-year-old Marlins phenom Eury Pérez have all missed time due to forearm or elbow issues. Bieber and Pérez have already undergone reconstructive surgery. Strider, unless he can dodge misfortune like Cole, might be next.

The list of hurlers currently recovering from elbow issues includes Shohei Ohtani, Shane McClanahan, Jacob deGrom, Walker Buehler, Félix Bautista and Robby Ray. Just hours after Cole spoke to the media Monday, the Astros announced that their typically reliable frontline starter, Framber Valdez, was experiencing elbow discomfort and would be scratched as a result.

Concern reached high enough levels over the weekend that both the MLBPA and MLB issued statements on the matter, with the former blaming the even-shorter pitch clock for the uptick in injuries and the latter outright denying such a connection.

This is, quite simply, the topic of the day.

So when Cole emerged in the clubhouse around 3 p.m. Monday and donned his navy blue Yankees cap in front of his locker, it was obvious to everyone assembled that the six-time All-Star was prepared to speak about more than just his own road back. What followed was a two-minute update on his progress, followed by an 18-minute town hall on elbow injuries, modern pitching and the path forward.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s not black and white, like both of the statements that were put out,” a visibly frustrated Cole told reporters.

Comparing the league and the union to a set of bickering, divorced parents, he lamented the lack of cooperation between the parties. And while his criticism of the players’ union’s statement was notable given his decade as a union representative, the reigning Cy Young was even more pointed toward the league and how its implementation of new rules might have impacted pitcher health.

“I don’t feel like players are the main focus of it and that taking care of the players is the main focus of it,” Cole said.

He later added: “[Commissioner] Rob [Manfred] is supposed to care about players, supposed to really, deeply care about them. Like, that is his job.”

While there is no hard evidence, despite the union’s statement, that MLB’s implementation of the pitch clock has led to an increase in injuries, there is a firm belief among players that a compounding series of changes to the sport over the past 10 years have played a major role in the increase in Tommy John surgeries. Cole cited less time between pitches; less time between innings; crackdowns on the use of foreign substances, aka “sticky stuff,” to control the baseball; the introduction of a more homer-happy baseball, which further incentivized strikeouts and velocity, around 2017; and the abnormal preseasons from 2020 through 2022 as potential factors in the rise in injuries.

There exists convincing data that fastball velocity is directly correlated to elbow injuries, but Cole refused to place any blame on players — or even teams — for chasing big numbers on the radar gun.

“You have to meet the demands of the game,” he said. “That’s your job.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone agreed.

“What are we going to do?” he asked. “Say, ‘You’re not allowed to pitch hard and have a really good slider’?”

Still, in his role as one of the more respected and influential voices in the game, Cole was reluctant to offer either a definitive cause for the spike in injuries or a clear path forward.

“I put a lot of thought into the stuff I say, but I just don’t have enough information to point you in a direction,” he offered.

Instead, the ace of MLB’s premier franchise made a plea for cooperation, understanding and collaboration among the league, the players, the teams and the union to figure out the problems and begin the search for solutions.

“Some empathy, some … some … something, you know?” said Cole, clearly at his wits’ end. “If there’s one thing everybody should be able to get on the same side about, it’s really the best players being out there as much as possible.”

Solving this quagmire will take years, probably decades — if it ever gets solved. In the meantime, Cole will continue on his own journey back to the mound. He is set to throw from 60 feet twice more this week. A target date for his return remains unknown.

The future, as ever, is hazy.

Related Post