Even if Clarke Schmidt had not refined any of his pitches over the offseason, Gerrit Cole believes he would be poised to take a step forward this year because of how he pushed himself to blow past his previous career-high workload last season.

But Schmidt got to 159 innings and then kept tinkering with his repertoire during the winter in hopes of taking his game to another level this year, with an immediate test awaiting on Sunday in his season debut against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Yankees right-hander ran out of gas last September, with his ERA rising back up to 4.64 by his 32nd and final start.

But he remembers Cole pushing him to fight through however tired his body might have been to extend his innings threshold so he could benefit down the road.



Clarke Schmidt had a 3.18 ERA in spring training.Getty Images

“He was a big motivating factor at the end,” Schmidt said. “He’s like, ‘Bro, you gotta just callous your body. Whatever you’re dealing with at the end of the year or whatever you’re feeling, just continue to push through.’ ”

The reigning AL Cy Young winner, who is now on the injured list for an arm injury (elbow) for the first time in his career, knows first-hand how beneficial that was for him when he was in Schmidt’s cleats.

“From my personal experience, I know there’s no replacement for being out there,” Cole said. “The more you’re out there, the slower the game goes for you. If he had the same stuff and the same locations as last year but he had more experience with his mind, I believe he [would] be able to maximize his performance. So not only am I expecting that from him, but I do think some of his stuff has ticked up a little.

“Finishing the year healthy and throwing those amount of innings last year has put him in a good spot physically. You still gotta go out and do it and it’s very hard and the league will counteract what he’s done. But he’s definitely in a position to make a real impact on this club for us.”



The Yankees need Schmidt to take that next step in his second full season as a starter, especially with Cole out until at least the end of May.

The 28-year-old Schmidt felt the difference this spring of having a full season’s workload under his belt — not so much physically as mentally.

“Mentally … I’ve learned more in the last year than I have in almost my whole entire career,” Schmidt said near the end of camp. “I just feel leaps and bounds better mechanically and what I’m trying to do out there, I have an idea of how I’m trying to get guys out. But then physically, I think early on there was a little bit of like getting over a hump almost, when I first started throwing. But after that, I feel great.


Gerrit Cole warming up in the first inning while playing the Toronto Blue Jays in Spring Training on March 1, 2024.Newsday via Getty Images

“I feel almost that I weathered the storm a little bit. It’s like my body’s primed to take off a little bit.”

Then there are his pitches. Schmidt spent much of the offseason working on his sinker and making sure it played better off his cutter, which he introduced last season and quickly became his most-used pitch. He also tweaked his changeup grip to make it more of a split-changeup, which he may throw more of this season.

Combined with better mechanics this spring — staying more upright and staying behind the ball more — Schmidt saw an uptick in velocity, which Cole was quick to take note of as well.

“I threw [March 15] against Pittsburgh and I had a bunch of 97s and [Cole] came up to me after and he was like, ‘You’re about to feel the effects of a first full season in the big leagues,’ ” Schmidt said. “And how much that can catapult me forward as far as physically and mentally.”