CLEARWATER, Fla. — There was the three-pitch strikeout of Didi Gregorius, a whiff of Bryce Harper and some especially effective changeups from Gerrit Cole on Thursday.
And with just three weeks remaining until Opening Day in The Bronx, it was easy to envision the right-hander playing the part of the Yankees’ ace over the course of an entire season for the first time.
“I think I’m in a good spot,’’ Cole said after he tossed three scoreless innings against the Phillies in a 6-1 win at BayCare Ballpark. “I was pleased with the effort level. It kind of feels more normal to me.”
And that’s a new development for Cole, whose first season in pinstripes was anything but normal, from the shutdown of spring training almost exactly a year ago, to the restart over the summer and throughout the 60-game regular season and playoffs.
There were no complaints about Cole’s performance, but he spoke excitedly about the chance to pitch in front of his family this season — especially his father, Mark, who grew up a Yankee fan.
“My dad’s been itching to get to Yankee Stadium to watch a game,’’ Cole said. “He told me, ‘If they don’t let us in on Opening Day, I’m gonna put the radio on outside the gate and listen.’ I said, ‘I think I can get you in.’ ”
Cole showed why the Yankees invested $324 million over nine years to sign him prior to last season with a fairly midseason repertoire in his 50-pitch outing against the Phillies.
A three-pitch strikeout of Gregorius featured a nasty curveball, a 98 mph fastball and then a filthy, 90 mph changeup that got the former Yankees shortstop swinging.
Cole was particularly pleased with his changeup, a pitch that sometimes takes him longer to get a feel for during the spring.
Aaron Boone agreed, calling it “maybe as good a changeup as I’ve seen from him.”
The only thing missing Thursday, according to Cole, was his slider — which he called “trash.”
But he expects the changeup to be an even more important pitch for him this season after he leaned on it more during his first year in The Bronx.
“Especially at the Stadium, when I didn’t have my slider to left-handers,’’ Cole said. “I thought it was pretty good last year and I want to continue to get the location with it. If I can at least locate it, I don’t need the best action. Just sprinkle in a little uncertainty.”
Since Cole certainly seems to be a creature of habit, having a more typical schedule would figure to help him, as opposed to 2020’s stop-and-start nature, as well as everything else that went on.
A few weeks into what has been a relatively calm spring, Cole is confident it will do him good.
“It feels more normal to me,’’ Cole said. “Last year there was a totally different schedule, a different way to prepare [and] a different daily routine. You had to spit [for the COVID test], put the mask on and try to find my way through the clubhouse.”
While at least some of those aspects are the same this spring, Cole and his teammates have become more accustomed to them and he can focus more on getting ready for the season.
His previous work came at the Yankees’ player development complex in Tampa because of a wet forecast that prevented him from facing his former team, the Pirates, in Bradenton.
The next step will likely include adding an inning and about 10-15 pitches, with three total starts before Cole and the Yankees open the season against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
Boone said “at this time of the spring, just making sure his stuff is resembling what it should. But it comes down to him building up his workload. Then we can evaluate how the balls move and that everything is doing what it should be doing and his delivery.”