TAMPA, Fla. — There are few more devoted students to the art of pitching than
“You look at the roster card right now and say, ‘Wow, the ceilings are really high,'” Cole said on Thursday. “I think there’s a lot of excitement there. It’s just fun to root for these guys. You want Monty to take the next step forward; you want Jamo to do it as well. I think everybody is pulling for Corey to reestablish that back-to-back Cy Young sort of form. It’s a really enjoyable rotation and a lot of potential.”
While Cole has mostly admired Kluber from afar, calling the one-time Indians ace a “true craftsman,” he is thrilled to be reunited with Taillon. Cole and Taillon were longtime teammates dating to their rises through the Pirates organization, even spending several springs as roommates near the Bucs’ training site in Bradenton.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman asked for Cole’s input before completing a January trade for the 29-year-old Taillon, a one-time first-round pick whose immense promise has been impacted by numerous injuries.
“The advice was solicited; it’s not like I’m making calls trying to pull the strings around here,” Cole said. “I just spoke personally about a great friend. I just spoke to the character, the player and how well I think he’s dealt with adversity and overcome challenges.”
Cole said that he could never have anticipated the bizarre trials and tribulations of his first season in pinstripes, having signed a nine-year, $342 million contract only for a global pandemic to shorten the season. Still, Cole was 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 12 regular-season starts. He picked up victories in his first two postseason starts as a Yankee, taking a no-decision on short rest in the season-ending American League Division Series finale.
“He’s the complete package,” said manager Aaron Boone. “He is a superstar in the sport, and he certainly has the talent to deliver the goods. When you couple that with a real keen understanding of who he is, how to apply information, and how he’s probably grown in that understanding over the course of his career — you just see a real refined, polished pitcher and person with special stuff. It’s why he’s certainly one of the best pitchers in the sport.”
Though he was teamed exclusively with backup catcher Kyle Higashioka down the stretch last year, Cole said he anticipates working with Gary Sánchez and non-roster invitee Robinson Chirinos for his Grapefruit League starts. Cole believes that Spring Training is a prime opportunity to build bonds with all of his teammates as they prepare for the goal ahead.
“I’m extremely driven for a championship,” Cole said. “Every time we lace it up as players, that’s the goal — certainly here.”
Yet Cole knows he can’t do it alone, eyeing the rest of the Yanks’ intriguing rotation for the help he’ll need. Cole said that he is not concerned that Kluber, Taillon and Domingo Germán have not pitched much over the last two seasons, limited to a total of one inning during the 2020 campaign.
Expect to often see Cole near the dugout railing when those other starters are on the hill, frequently sidling up to Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake, just as he liked to do during the 2020 season.
“I’m just here to root them on and be a good teammate,” Cole said. “The work ethic is there, the discipline is there, the talent is there. They’re going to have to overcome some adversity and they’re in the process of doing that themselves right now. The most important thing for me is to be by their sides and continue to encourage them.”