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Reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is getting closer to rejoining the New York Yankees. Friday night Cole made his third minor-league rehab start with New York's Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. He has not pitched this season after going down with nerve inflammation in his elbow in spring training.

Cole was dominant Friday night, allowing one unearned run on two hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. Cole threw 45 pitches and 57 pitches in his first two rehab starts, and he got up to 70 pitches Friday.

Statcast says Cole's fastball averaged 94.6 mph and topped out at 97.8 mph. His fastball averaged 96.7 mph last season, though Cole is only three rehab starts into his build up, so it's not a surprise his arm strength isn't all the way there yet. The fact he touched 98 mph is a good sign and an indication he feels healthy.

The Yankees have not said when Cole will return -- "We'll see," has been manager Aaron Boone's default answer whenever he is asked about Cole -- but now that he's up to 70 pitches, it is possible Friday was his final rehab start. Last week, Boone said Cole could return before he is fully built up to 100 pitches. It will depend how he feels as much as anything.

"I think that's possible that he doesn't come to us at, call it 100 pitches or whatever," Boone said. "What that point is, I don't know. That hasn't been decided yet. Gerrit will have a big say in that as well."

Of course, the Yankees have been doing more than fine without Cole. They entered play Friday with a major league best 49-22 record, and they are allowing only 3.27 runs per game. That's 0.26 runs per game better than any other team. That said, this is Gerrit Cole. The sooner he returns, the better they'll be.

The Yankees lost right-hander Clarke Schmidt to a lat strain last month and he is expected to miss at least two months. He made 11 starts with a 2.52 ERA before the injury. Journeyman Cody Poteet was called up to replace Schmidt and has a 2.14 ERA in four starts this season.

Cole, 33, led the American League in innings (209), ERA (2.63), ERA+ (165), WHIP (0.98), and WAR (7.4) en route to winning the Cy Young unanimously in 2023. He is in Year 5 of a nine-year, $324 million contract.