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Tim O’Sullivan: Cote’s hard work paying off in promotion to Charleston

Jordan Cote has been waiting for this. The last two seasons were a slow grind of rookie ball back fields, rehab bullpen sessions and simulation games for the Winnisquam High product. But on Friday, Cote learned he will be spending this year with the Charleston RiverDogs, the New York Yankees Class A affiliate.

“When I saw the roster I was pretty excited. It’s finally the next step,” Cote said. “I didn’t really expect it because I didn’t really throw a lot of innings this spring. It seemed like every day it rained it was my day to pitch. I think I had like six innings all spring.”

Cote, 21, pitched well in those six innings, but that’s not what got him the promotion to Charleston, which opens its season tomorrow. It was all those long hours toiling for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in Tampa for the past two seasons.

“He worked really hard this offseason, he came in in great shape and he threw the ball well this spring, although spring training isn’t a true indicator of where people go, that’s too small of a sample size,” said Gil Patterson, the Yankees minor league pitching coordinator. “So really it’s what he did last year and the year before with getting ground balls and swings and misses, attacking the zone, not allowing walks, and we just felt like we wanted to challenge him in Charleston.”

Cote’s sample size in competitive game situations isn’t exactly huge, either, but it is impressive. He appeared in six games in 2012, posting a 0.98 ERA, striking out 25, walking four and allowing just 21 hits in 27 2/3 innings before some elbow soreness ended his season in late July. Last year he pitched in nine games and finished with a 0.96 ERA, 20 strikeouts, five walks and 18 hits allowed in 28 innings before a blister on his middle finger ended his season in mid-August.

Cote would love to duplicate some of those numbers for the RiverDogs, who play in the South Atlantic League. But it’s other numbers that have him excited about his departure from the Gulf Coast League’s short (60-game) season and non-existent crowds, numbers like the 138 games on the RiverDogs’ schedule, and 4,105, the average attendance last year at Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, known locally as “The Joe.”

“It feels almost like when I got drafted. You’re so excited to go play and that’s what I feel about Charleston. I’m just so excited to get there and go play again, like I’m excited for the game of baseball again,” Cote said. “Not that I wasn’t excited to play last year, but it’s a different kind of excitement. You’re playing in front of 4,000, 5,000 people every night rather than playing in a back field in Florida.”

The mettle Cote showed by excelling on those back fields was duly noted. It was one of the reasons he went from the GCL to Charleston, skipping the Yankees Class A Short Season affiliate in Staten Island.

“It’s difficult down here (in Tampa), it tests your character a little bit,” Patterson said. “He showed the mental strength and discipline to come through here two years in a row and I think all that hard work paid off for him, so that’s why not only me, but all of us are very happy for Jordan.”

That mental strength will be tested again this season as Cote moves from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Most pitchers would view such a move as a demotion, but Cote isn’t one of them.

“A lot of guys don’t like it, but I’m excited for it. I think it brings new opportunities and new challenges, but I think the biggest thing is it opens up a lot more doors,” Cote said. “There’s a lot more relieving jobs and guys progress faster from the bullpen than starters, so I’m excited for it.”

Patterson doesn’t view the move to the bullpen as a demotion, either. He said it was done because sometimes such a move creates a “spike in velocity,” and the Yankees are hoping that happens for Cote. They had been trying to find a few extra miles per hour in Cote’s right arm by making some tweaks to his delivery, but that tweaking took a different direction this winter.

When Cote came back to New Hampshire for the offseason, he also returned to the pitching coach he had in high school, Concord native Matt Blake, who works out of the Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass. Cote said Blake helped him get, “more athleticism, more of a natural flow into my mechanics instead of it being so methodical.” Cote also worked with former Red Sox trainer Mike Reinold to help eliminate the minor elbow and shoulder issues that have slowed him down in the past. The result is a fastball that’s been a consistent 91-92 m.p.h. and an arm that Cote says feels as good as it ever has.

“So really the biggest goal this year is to stay healthy, throw a lot of innings and stay on that right track,” Cote said.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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