Gerrit Cole  [600x400]
Gerrit Cole [600x400] (Credit: Luke Hales/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK -- New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole's assignment for his season debut Wednesday wasn't cushy: a mid-June clash against the loaded Baltimore Orioles, his club's primary competition for American League East supremacy, after just three rehab starts fresh off an alarming elbow injury.

But Cole isn't your typical pitcher, and the Yankees deemed him ready knowing he would have to build up his stamina at the highest level. Working with a short leash Wednesday, the reigning Cy Young Award winner proved he was up for the challenge. He was sharp, with a touch of rust, over four-plus innings in front of a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium, though New York would go on to lose 7-6 in 10 innings.

The right-hander was charged with two runs on three hits. He compiled five strikeouts to one walk. He threw 62 pitches and induced six swing-and-misses. His average fastball velocity was down 1.6 mph from last season, but he still touched 97 mph.

"I felt pretty good," Cole said. "Good command for the most part. And made some good pitches when we needed to make some good pitches."

Cole took the mound for his long-awaited return at 7:07 p.m. to cheers after a video montage was played on the big screen highlighting his debut. It began with a couple of bumps.

The Orioles inflicted most of their damage against Cole in the first inning. Gunnar Henderson led off the game with a one-hopper that bounced off second baseman Gleyber Torres' glove into right field and was ruled a double. Two batters later, Ryan O'Hearn, facing an 0-2, slashed a slider for a two-out, RBI ground-rule double.

Cole quickly regrouped. He needed just seven pitches to retire the side in the second inning. He issued a one-out walk to Henderson in the third. Henderson stole second base on the next pitch but was stranded there as Cole recorded his first three strikeouts of the season in the inning.

Cole retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the fourth frame on 16 pitches. He took the mound for the fifth inning but was pulled for reliever Ron Marinaccio after surrendering a first-pitch single to Cedric Mullins. The crowd showered Cole with a standing ovation. Cole, visibly annoyed with the end of his performance, acknowledged the supporters with his glove twice.

Then he watched Marinaccio yield a two-run home run to Ramon Urias for the second of the two runs on his pitching line.

"I thought he got better as he went," said Boone, who noted he sensed Cole was fatigued after the fourth inning.

Before the game, Boone declined to share Cole's pitch limit, not wanting to give the Orioles a competitive edge. But Cole was obviously going to be limited after he was built up to 68 pitches over 4⅓ innings in his third and final rehab start Friday.

Boone said the goal was to build up Cole "conservatively." On Wednesday, that meant a 65-pitch limit, Boone said after the game. Asked what his pitch limit would be in his next outing, Cole echoed his manager's competitive disadvantage line. But he did offer a hint: "More."

"I'm tired now," Cole said. "Certainly a different level. It just demands a higher level of focus and execution. I definitely felt I could keep making pitches, but it was strategic in the pitch count. And, certainly, in that regard we executed that perfectly."