NEW YORK — Aaron Cook’s first experience pitching in the Bronx was one he will always remember.
While a member of the Colorado Rockies, Cook made the 2008 National League All-Star team. He arrived in New York hoping he would pitch an inning and get his time in the spotlight.
But when the game went to extra innings, Cook took the mound at 12:05 a.m. He ended up throwing three shutout innings and hurling 42 pitches. Despite his extraordinary efforts, the American League won, 4-3, in 15 innings.
“It was definitely a crazy night,” Cook said. “Being able to do that was special and something I’ll never forget.”
Cook will experience something a little different on Friday when he starts for the Red Sox against the Yankees at the new Yankee Stadium. The Rockies weren’t part of a rivalry like this.
Cook (2-3) has pitched well for the Red Sox. He has a 2.16 earned run average in his last five starts and has given the team a chance to win when he takes the mound. But the Yankees present a challenge. They have a .794 OPS, the highest in the American League, and Cook pitches to contact with his sinking fastball.
Cook also will be pitching in a hitter-friendly ballpark. He started for the Rockies last June 25 at the Stadium and allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits before being taken out in the sixth inning.
“So I kind of have an idea of how I want to go after the guys. Keep them honest and make quality pitches down in the zone,” Cook said. “I know they can be an aggressive team at times. I’ll just let my defense play good behind me.
“They’re a great team. They put together a great lineup every time out there. It’s just a team that you have to take serious and can’t take any batter off or any pitch off. You have to be on top of your game and attack them.”
Cook was signed to a minor league contract and started the season with Triple A Pawtucket. He was called up May 5, cut his knee during a collision at home plate that day and went on the disabled list.
But since coming back June 24, Cook has provided a boost to a rotation in dire need of one.
“Confidence is definitely improving,” the 33-year-old righthander said. “The biggest thing is that I’m healthy, and when you’re healthy and taking the ball every fifth day and knowing you’re healthy, you automatically have more confidence. Being able to be successful and doing what I’ve been able to do adds to that confidence.”
Cook has only three strikeouts in 36 innings and in his last start allowed two long home runs against the Blue Jays in a 7-3 loss. But manager Bobby Valentine isn’t too worried about Cook inducing contact against a team like the Yankees.
“Not if they hit it on the ground. He’s really good when they hit it on the ground,” Valentine said. “I’ve always thought he was a confident guy. The velocity of his pitches, his sinker, seems to keep increasing. He says his shoulder feels as good as it has felt in a long time.”
Felix Doubront, scheduled to start on Sunday, has thrown 107 innings this season. That doesn’t seem like much until you compare it with the 87⅔ innings he threw all last season.
The 24-year-old lefthander is on a pace to throw 175 innings. Research has suggested that would make him more susceptible to injury. Most teams try to limit how many innings a young starter adds from year to year. Typically, the workload increases by 30-40 innings.
But Valentine doesn’t necessarily agree with that.
“I’ve heard all the nonsense, I mean all that stuff. It’s all information. Whether it means anything, who knows? We’ll see,” Valentine said. “You have that information so that you see it if you want to see it. If you’re bird watching, you want to know what colors the feathers are.”
Valentine pointed out that C.J. Wilson went from 73⅔ innings as a reliever in 2009 to 204 as a starter with Texas in 2010. But Wilson was 29 at the time and had 70 starts in the minors.
“There’s a spell here where guys usually hit a wall, no matter who you are. Sometimes, with a young guy, that’s a reason for people to panic and think it’s only because he’s a young guy and not because that’s what happens,” Valentine said. “Some guys crash right through the wall.”
Middlebrooks heats up
Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks is 8 for his last 20, raising his batting average to .297. His solo home run against the Rangers on Wednesday came on a changeup, a good sign that he is adjusting to how pitchers are attacking him. “It seems maybe he’s over another hump,” Valentine said . . . The Red Sox are 77-85 in their last 162 games . . . Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher, who has missed five games with a strained left hip flexor, could return to the lineup on Saturday.