Add A.J. Cole to the list of contributors in the Yankees’ nuclear bullpen.
He can’t be found in the elite bin where Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder reside, but the right-hander pitched like those relievers Tuesday night against the Braves at Yankee Stadium.
Cole, acquired from the Nationals for cash in late April and activated from the disabled list before the game, replaced Domingo German in the fifth inning and retired two of the three batters he faced — including striking out Tyler Flowers with the bases loaded to kill a three-run rally — on the way to an 8-5 victory that was witnessed by 45,448 at Yankee Stadium.
Aaron Hicks, Kyle Higashioka and Giancarlo Stanton homered for the 55-28 Yankees, who are four percentage points back of the AL East-leading 58-29 Red Sox, who clobbered the Nationals, 11-4. Stanton’s 20th homer of the season was timely since it came in the eighth and stretched a 6-5 lead to 8-5 and gave Chapman, working a third straight game, breathing room in the ninth as he posted his 24th save.
German took a 6-0 lead to the mound at the start of the fifth inning three outs away from qualifying for a victory and walked Johan Camargo to open the frame. With one out, German got ahead of Ender Inciarte, 0-2, and watched the left-handed hitter drive a breaking ball over the right-field fence for a two-run homer. One pitch later, Ozzie Albies reached the second deck in right and sliced the lead to 6-3.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild visited German on the mound before Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis each singled with Cole throwing in the bullpen.
Before German could face Kurt Suzuki, Aaron Boone called for Cole, who returned from the DL earlier in the day after recovering from a strained neck muscle. He fanned Suzuki on a check swing for the second out and watched Ronald Acuna Jr. reach on an infield single to deep short. That loaded the bases for Flowers. With the count full and the crowd standing, the right-handed hitting Flowers fouled two straight pitches off before he flailed at a pitch in the dirt to leave three runners on.
Cole, 26, gave up a hit and fanned four in 1 ²/₃ innings. In eight games with the Yankees, the right-hander has worked 14 ²/₃ innings, allowed seven hits, one run and fanned 19. Those sterling numbers followed him going 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games (two starts) for the Nationals.
German allowed three runs, three walks and fanned six in 4 ¹/₃ innings. Braves starter Sean Newcomb started the game with an 8-2 record and a 2.71 ERA, but lasted just 2 ²/₃ innings in which he gave up five runs.
Adam Warren took over for Cole at the start of the seventh and watched Didi Gregorius turn Freeman’s one-hop smash up the middle into a force out at second with a diving stop and dash to the bag that forced Albies for the first out of the inning.
Nick Markakis made it a 6-5 game with a two-run homer to right that Stanton crashed into the wall attempting to snag. With Suzuki at the plate, a trainer visited Stanton to make sure the collision with the wall didn’t injure him. Stanton remained in the game and caught Suzuki’s drive to right at the wall. That was followed by Hicks chasing Acuna’s fly ball to the warning track in center for the final out.
The wobbly inning followed eight solid outings off the DL in which Warren didn’t allow a run in 10 ²/₃ frames, allowed five hits and struck out 11.
Because Green and Holder worked two innings each on Monday night and Robertson, Betances and Chapman pitched Sunday and Monday, Boone’s bullpen was short enough for him to send Warren out for the eighth.
With one out, Camargo laced a single to right with Chasen Shreve throwing in the bullpen. When Dansby Swanson ripped a single to center, the left-handed Shreve was summoned to face the lefty-swinging Inciarte with runners on first and second.
Shreve struck out Inciarte with a splitter and watched third baseman Miguel Andujar make a backhanded grab of Albies’ grounder toward the line and an accurate throw to first to keep the Yankees’ 6-5 lead intact.
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