Nestor Cortes proving to be key part of Yankees’ rotation with strong outing

BALTIMORE — There were questions coming into the season about whether Nestor Cortes Jr. could repeat the strong performance he turned in as a surprise member of the Yankees’ rotation last year. 

But what if he could be even better? 

Cortes struck out a career-high 12 batters across five more shutout innings on Sunday, including an immaculate inning, though the Yankees let it go to waste in a 5-0 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards. 

“It’s fun to be out there every single time,” Cortes said. “When you’re on a roll like that, it makes it just a little sweeter. It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out with the ‘W’ today, but it is what it is.” 

Through two starts — his first coming against a more powerful Blue Jays lineup — Cortes has tossed 9 ¹/₃ innings without giving up a run, allowing only six hits and one walk while striking out 17. 

Nestor Cortes #65 of the New York Yankees pitches in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 17, 2022 in Baltimore.
Nestor Cortes pitches Sunday during the Yankees’ loss to the Orioles
Getty Images

“He’s a major league pitcher,” Aaron Judge said. “He gets guys out and he’s something special. What he did last year wasn’t a fluke. He’s got the it factor on the mound.” 

Making Cortes’ performance even more impressive was the fact that he said he didn’t get comfortable until around the third inning. It was a cold and windy afternoon, which made it hard for Cortes to grip the ball early on, he said. 

In the first inning, Cortes gave up a one-out single and walk, but came back to strike out Anthony Santander and get Ryan McKenna to ground out to end the inning, going on cruise control from there. 

“He got into a groove there in about the third, fourth and fifth inning where he was pretty special,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Really dialed in his command, stuff was good.” 

Cortes made his money with his cutter. He threw it 36 times (out of 88 pitches) and it produced 10 swings and misses, including eight of his strikeouts. 

“I was able to command it to both sides of the plate,” Cortes said. “Hitters off me are expecting inside cutters, [but] I was able to manage that outer rail with the cutter to backdoor them a little bit.” 

Nestor Cortes
Nestor Cortes
AP

The only real drama came after Cortes’ immaculate inning in the fourth — the ninth in Yankees history — when he struck out the side on nine pitches. Catcher Kyle Higashioka jogged off the field and threw the ball into the stands out of habit, only to face grief for it from Gerrit Cole and teammates in the dugout. 

Cole eventually tracked down the fan who caught the ball and signed a different one to make a trade. 

“All the pitchers were like, ‘What are you doing, Higgy?’ ” Cortes said with a laugh. “But thankfully we got it back.”

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