Yankees ace Gerrit Cole pitches 4 strong innings in return from elbow injury, but Orioles prevail in extra innings

New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole made a strong return from his elbow injury in an abbreviated outing Wednesday in his 2024 debut.

It didn't net New York a win, as the Baltimore Orioles secured a 7-6 extra-innings victory in a battle atop the AL East. Baltimore (48-25) now stands 1.5 games behind New York (51-25) for first in the AL East.

But the Yankees — who built the AL's best record without the services of their best pitcher — are only stronger with Cole's return and can feel good about his first effort of the season against big-league hitters.

Cole pitched four innings, allowing three hits, one walk and two earned runs while recording five strikeouts. His four-seam fastball maxed out at 97 mph, a touch higher than his average fastball velocity of 96.7 mph in 2023.

Gerrit Cole threw five strikeouts in four innings against the Orioles in his 2024 debut. (Luke Hales/Getty Images)
Gerrit Cole threw five strikeouts in four innings against the Orioles in his 2024 debut. (Luke Hales/Getty Images)

He threw 61 pitches through four innings, then returned for the fifth. He allowed a first-pitch single to Cedric Mullins, and his day was done after 62 pitches.

Manager Aaron Boone played it safe with his ace and replaced him with reliever Ron Marinaccio. Marinaccio allowed a home run to Ramón Urías on the next at-bat, and Cole was tagged with his second earned run of the night as the Orioles took a 3-1 lead. Cole wasn't pleased with being pulled or the Orioles' pulling ahead, but there was plenty to like about his first start of 2024.

Cole started the night by allowing a leadoff double to Gunnar Henderson. Second baseman Gleyber Torres had a chance to make a play on the ground ball, but it bounced off his glove into right field, allowing Henderson to reach second base. Henderson came around to score on a Ryan O’Hearn ground-rule double with two outs.

Cole finished his first inning with 10 strikes in 13 pitches while allowing two hits and one earned run. Then he settled in.

He made quick work of the side in a 1-2-3 second inning that required seven pitches. He led off the third with his first strikeout of the season. Jorge Mateo swung and missed at a third-strike cutter off the plate.

He then walked Henderson on eight pitches for his first and only free pass of the night. Two more strikeouts concluded the third. Cole sat down Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle on strikes for a three-strikeout inning to complete his second turn through the top of the Orioles order.

Cole then cruised in the fourth, with two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning. After inducing a leadoff lineout from O'Hearn, he retired both Anthony Santander and Colton Cowser swinging with 96 mph fastballs at the top of the zone.

He then briefly returned for the fifth but was pulled after his first pitch.

Cole started this season on the injured list after experiencing nerve inflammation and swelling in his pitching elbow. He avoided Tommy John surgery and has been gearing up in rehab starts in recent weeks. The Yankees called him up for Wednesday's game after he recorded 19 strikeouts and zero walks across 12 1/3 innings in three minor-league rehab starts.

Barring any setbacks, he's back in the rotation and should gradually see his pitch count increase as the Yankees set their sights on the AL East crown and beyond.