Gerrit Cole Gets the Best of Josh Donaldson

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MINNEAPOLIS — Ever so briefly, Gerrit Cole stared at Josh Donaldson, a player he had struck out in each of his first two at-bats Wednesday night.

Over the weekend, Donaldson, a third baseman for the Minnesota Twins, had obliquely accused Cole, the ace of the Yankees’ rotation, of using sticky substances to boost the spin rate of his pitches to make them more effective. On Wednesday, facing the superstar pitcher he had accused, Donaldson appeared overmatched.

After his first strikeout, he had shouted in frustration after flailing at a high breaking ball. After the second, he said something to the home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott before walking away. On Donaldson’s third at-bat, when he flied out to right field leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, Cole watched Donaldson as he jogged toward first base.

Donaldson did not look Cole’s way that time, either.

On a sweltering night at Target Field, Cole had the last word, allowing two runs in six innings and striking out nine in a 9-6 Yankees victory.

The spin rates of Cole’s four-seam fastball and slider fell slightly below his season averages for a second consecutive start, though his curve was rotating slightly faster than normal, per the website Baseball Savant. But unlike his last start, when he allowed a season-high five runs in a loss at Tampa Bay, Cole pitched effectively against the Twins.

His velocity was up — his sixth pitch of the night, to Donaldson, topped 100 miles per hour — and the last-place Twins managed only five hits against him. Solo homers by Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano accounted for the two runs Cole allowed.

“I just thought he came out with tremendous focus like he always does, blocking out all the noise, going out and executing and pitching,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said.

The tense matchup between pitcher and batter came four days after Donaldson wondered aloud to reporters if it was a coincidence that Cole’s spin rates fell off after four minor leaguers received 10-game suspensions for the illegal use of sticky substances on baseballs. (Cole attributed his poor performance to poor mechanics.)

Donaldson said Wednesday he didn’t regret speaking out, adding he didn’t believe Cole was the only offender.

“He was the first guy who pitched since the suspensions happened, and he’s the first guy who you could see spin rates going down,” Donaldson said. “There have been 12 guys whose spin rates have dropped in the last week. So it’s not just Gerrit Cole.”

Increased spin changes the plane and movement of pitches, making them more difficult to hit. Throughout baseball history, pitchers have used various substances to better grip the baseball, an illegal but often overlooked process. There is a growing belief that the recent dominance of pitchers can be partially attributed to widespread use of substances like Spider Tack, a tacky paste that can allow pitchers to dramatically increase their spin rate.

Cole’s spin rates rose significantly from 2017 to 2019, when he won a career-high 20 games with the Houston Astros. In an awkward news conference Tuesday, Cole wouldn’t answer whether he had ever used Spider Tack.

“I hesitated on the specificity of the question because I don’t think this is the forum to discuss those kinds of things,” Cole said on Wednesday. “There’s an appropriate time for players to discuss those things. I’ll keep it to that forum.”

On Wednesday night, Cole’s fastball averaged 98.2 m.p.h., just above his season average. He would not admit to any additional satisfaction in striking out Donaldson twice. Cole’s 113 strikeouts this season are the most through 13 starts in club history, bettering Al Downing’s 104 in 1963.

Cole, now 7-3, added that he has not spoken to Donaldson about his comments.

“I don’t see any need to; I’m good,” he said. “But if he has anything more to say, he’s welcome to reach out or whatever.”

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