Yankees’ Gerrit Cole knows the importance of winning their current series against the Astros

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HOUSTON — Gerrit Cole knows this isn’t just any start.

The former Astro comes back to Minute Maid Park on Saturday needing to end the first half of the season on a good note. The Yankees ace needs to put an end to his own personal slide and get the Bombers to the All-Star break with some momentum.

“I think, obviously, we have a good team that we’re playing against, somebody in the American League who measures themselves against the kind of the top of the league and ultimately a team that if they continue to play well, we’ll have to overcome them in the postseason,” Cole said before Friday’s game. “Just for us, as a group, it’s certainly had our ups and downs and played a decent series against Seattle. I think we’re just looking to continue that play through the break and end on a good note as a group.

“And personally to close the book on the first half on a good note as well,” Cole added. “That would be nice.”

The Yankees, who came into this series just two games above .500, have a long way to go before they can think about facing the Astros or any team in the playoffs. First and foremost, to be a team that can think about that, Cole has to get back on track.

Cole, who left the Astros for a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees, pitched to a 1.78 ERA, allowing 14 earned runs and five home runs in his first 11 starts this season. He struck out 97 and walked just nine. Since June 3, Cole has allowed 20 earned runs and 10 home runs over 34.1 innings pitched. He has walked 11 and struck out 38. His ERA over that span is 5.24. He is coming off back-to-back devastating starts for the Yankees, getting shelled by the Red Sox and then by the Mets.

His slide has coincided with MLB’s crackdown on illegal sticky substances pitchers use to get better command and spin rate on their pitches. Cole had been accused of using those substances when he was traded to the Astros in 2018 by his former college teammate Trevor Bauer. His texts to former Angels clubhouse attendant Bubba Harkins asking for help with a “sticky situation,” were cited in a wrongful termination lawsuit that was dismissed and he was later called out for a spin rate drop after the crackdown by Josh Donaldson.

Cole said that his issues are not related to the crackdown, but to his delivery.

“At this point, has nothing to do with the rule enforcement four or five weeks ago or whatever, it’s just there’s ebbs and flows to your delivery as the game goes on, throughout the season,” Cole said. “And we’ve got to tighten up some stuff. And we’re trying to do that here and trying to do that against good teams. And so, again, that’s where my focus has been. And that’s what we’ve identified as a group is what needs to kind of tick up a little bit.”

Cole was named an All-Star based on his hot start to the season. He said he thinks he will pitch in the MidSummer Classic in Denver on Tuesday.

“We’re discussing some of that stuff a little bit, Aaron (Boone) started the conversation with me today,” Cole said. “We are going to catch up tomorrow after I get my work done.”

VOIT OUT

Luke Voit, who was hit on the hand by a pitch in Thursday’s game, was out of the lineup on Friday night, but Boone said it is just a day to rest some bumps and bruises.

“Just based on getting hit in the hand, hitting the knee earlier this week and kind of the stretch he’s been through I just felt like today was the day I wanted to have him down,” the Yankees manager said. “He’s gotten a little bit beat up this week. So just felt like it felt like it was a good day to get (Rougned Odor) in there, too. So yeah, he should be good to go for the next few games.”

Voit, who had five hits on Tuesday, has spent two stints on the injured list this season. He began the season on the IL after surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his knee. He went back on the IL after 12 games with an oblique injury. Since returning on June 22, Voit is hitting .288/.333/.475 with two home runs, two doubles and a triple.

DECISION TIME

Miguel Andujar has a strain in his left hand/wrist area and was not in the lineup again on Friday night. Boone said that they will possibly have to make a decision about him going on the IL before Saturday’s game. Friday night, Boone had Tyler Wade in left field.

“We’ll see where we’re at with him as he goes through pre-game but still not ready to get in there,” Boone said. “See what his availability is for us tonight and then have to make a call.”

Andujar snapped a three-game hit-less streak on Tuesday, the same day he complained of the sore hand.

BRITTON BACK

Zack Britton will need more time before returning from the injured list. The set-up man will throw another live batting practice on Saturday and then a bullpen during the All-Star beak, Boone said.

The Yankees hope to activate Britton on Thursday when they open the second half with the Red Sox in the Bronx.

Britton has made five appearances this season. He started the year on the IL after surgery to remove a bone fragment from his left elbow. He is now recovering from a strained hamstring.

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