New York Yankees ace and reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole is another step closer to rejoining the big-league team. On Sunday, Cole allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings in his second minor-league rehab start with New York's Double-A affiliate, the Somerset Patriots. He has been sidelined with nerve inflammation in his elbow since spring training.

In those 4 2/3 innings Cole allowed two hits, including a solo home run by Colorado Rockies prospect Ryan Ritter, and struck out four. He did not walk a batter. Cole was scheduled for 55-60 pitches Sunday and threw 57 (44 strikes). He threw 45 pitches in his first rehab start this past Tuesday. Here are Cole's four punchouts:

The Yankees do not have a set number of rehab starts in mind for Cole. On Saturday, manager Aaron Boone said it's possible they will bring him back before he's fully built up to 100 pitches. It depends on his progress, how he feels, things like that.

"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."

One more rehab start on normal rest would get Cole to 75 pitches or so, and put him on track to return on Wednesday, June 19. That would be the second game of a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles, which would be good timing for the Yankees. That is only my speculation though. The Yankees have not yet said anything about the next step for Cole.

Of course, the Yankees have been doing more than fine without Cole. They enter play Sunday with an American League best 45-21 record, and they are allowing only 3.27 runs per game. That's 0.17 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 1.72 ERA in three 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.

Pitchers have a 30-day rehab window, so the Yankees must activate Cole no later than Thursday, July 4. They could always activate him sooner, but that's the latest he can return barring a setback or new injury.