Yankees' Gerrit Cole fans 10 in 4⅓ innings in 3rd rehab start

Yankees ace Gerrit Cole struck out 10 batters in a Triple-A game Friday night, perhaps the final hurdle before he returns from an elbow injury and joins New York's rotation for the first time this season.

"We've got to make that decision in the next 24, 48 hours. But it's really good work tonight," Cole told reporters. "I used all the pitches well. Got to pretty much every location. So it's another good step in the right direction."

The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner allowed just two hits and an unearned run over 4⅓ sharp innings for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at Rochester, a Washington Nationals affiliate.

He threw 46 of his 70 pitches for strikes and did not issue a walk. The six-time All-Star has struck out 19 and walked none over 12⅓ innings in three minor league rehabilitation starts (two with Double-A Somerset).

"I've just got to get the pitch count up," Cole said. "I mean, the team's playing well. It's not a situation where you come in and, like, disrupt the distribution of innings with your bullpen when everything's flowing so well."

The right-hander could make his season debut for the AL-leading Yankees on Wednesday or Thursday at home against second-place Baltimore. Or he could make another start in the minors.

"I'm very much wanting to get back very soon," Cole said with a big smile. "What a fun club they are right now. So yeah, that's part of the reason why I'm just trying to make sure that I'm in a good spot to help them."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was asked before Friday's 8-1 win over the Boston Red Sox if that would be Cole's final rehab start.

"We'll see," Boone replied.

The 33-year-old Cole made his only spring training start March 1 then was diagnosed with nerve inflammation and edema and told to rest. He began throwing bullpens on May 4 and made his first rehab start for Somerset on June 4.

Cole gave up a double in the first inning Friday and an unearned run on a single in the fourth. He opened by striking out the first and third Rochester batters he faced.

He added a strikeout in the second inning and struck out the side in the third and fourth. He opened the fifth inning with his 10th strikeout before being lifted.

Cole pitched 4⅔ innings of one-run ball Sunday for Somerset, allowing two hits, striking out four and walking one against Hartford in a game in which he retired his first eight batters. In that outing, he threw 44 of 57 pitches for strikes at Bridgewater Township, New Jersey.

He threw 45 pitches over 3⅓ scoreless innings for the Patriots on June 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.