Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Gerrit Cole is off to a torrid start in 2023.

The Yankees ace pitched a brilliant 2-hit shutout against the Twins on Sunday. He struck out ten and improved his record to 4-0. Cole’s ERA for the season sits at a stellar 0.95.

So you’ll pardon me for asking the following question: Who is this man and what has he done with the real Cole?

No, seriously. Where is he? This dominant right-hander may look like Cole, but is he actually the same pitcher? Gerrit Cole was always capable of going 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA to start a Yankees season. It’s just unbelievable that it’s actually been done.

Anyone can see that Cole is a different man this year. Gone are his signature flowing locks that push the limits of the Yankees’ anti-long hair policy. Instead, Cole’s gone tight in the back and has the much more conventional look of a suburban dad in his 30s. A suburban dad whose fastball just happens to hit 100 mph instead of the usual post-high school range of 55-65.

Cole also seems much more affable in interviews. He’s smiling, sometimes even joking with reporters. In the dugout, he’s playing peek-a-boo with babies in the stands between innings. Gone is the stoicism, calling Josh Naylor’s trash talk “cute” and exhibiting that toughness which makes him the Yankees’ own Roy Kent.

Instead, the Cole of 2023 seems more Pedro Cerrano in “Major League II,” more the optimist than focused baseball assassin. Except unlike Cerrano in the vaunted sequel, Cole’s new nature is actually bequeathing positive results.

So is this man donning No. 45 for the Yankees every five days actually Cole? Or is he some clone Brian Cashman created in some hidden wing of his analytics lab?

All jokes aside, Yankees fans: Cole is having a hell of a start to the season. He’s an ace putting up ace numbers and will probably continue to do so for the rest of the season.

Rather, Cole is smart and probably realizes the Yankees rotation is playing with house money. The Astros are not only off to a slow start but no longer have Hall of Famer Justin Verlander anchoring their rotation. One could even argue that leaves Cole as the hands-down best starting pitcher in the American League.

Thus, it’s more likely that Cole sees the AL’s pitching throne is his for the taking and he’s striking while the iron is hot. He’s a smart guy and also has to know that even with the injuries, the Yankees’ rotation might also be the league’s best.

This is the real Cole, folks. Always has been. Let’s hope he keeps it up deep into the playoffs.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.