Gerrit Cole pounds strike zone in second Yankees rehab start as injury return draws near

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Gerrit Cole pounded the strike zone in his second rehab start.

Pitching on four days rest to the same Double-A batters that he faced in a rehab start earlier this week, the Yankees’ ace continued ramping up to return to the MLB by throwing 44 of 57 pitches for strikes over 4 2/3 innings for the Somerset Patriots at TD Bank Ballpark, allowing one run with four strikeouts.

The question now is whether Cole will want one or two more minor-league tune-ups before making his season debut for the first-place Yankees. He was sidelined by an elbow injury during spring training.

Gerrit Cole pitching for Double-A Somerset on Sunday during his second rehab start. Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Gerrit Cole pitches in his second rehab start for Double-A Somerset on Sunday. Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Cole’s sixth pitch of the game and first to Rockies prospect Ryan Ritter was clocked at 91 miles per hour out of his hand, according to the unofficial scoreboard radar gun at TD Bank Ballpark, but sailed over the left-field fence at a much higher velocity.

The defending American League Cy Young Award winner touched 96 miles per hour once and 95 miles per hour five times.

After the home run, the only other hit against Cole was a sharp line-drive single to center field. He worked out of a two-on two-out jam in the second inning and struck out the final two batters he faced to up his total to four for the game as his fastball seemed to find a little more life as he emptied the tank.

Cole threw 34 of 45 pitches in striking out five over 3 1/3 scoreless innings — while topping out at 97 mph — in his first rehab start Tuesday for Somerset.

Gerrit Cole throws during his outing for Somerset on Sunday. Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Gerrit Cole reacts as Hartford’s Ryan Ritter rounds the bases following a home run on Sunday during Cole’s rehab start for Double-A Somerset. Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

Spencer Jones, the Yankees. No. 2 prospect, who is off to a slow start this season, homered to tie the game and get Cole off the hook for a potential loss.

About 100 fans lined up down the right-field line to watch Cole’s pregame bullpen. The rest of the Patriots’ pitching staff gathered around and applauded when Cole was finished.

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