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Yankees’ Nestor Cortes throws gem in start reminiscent of 2022 All-Star season

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Before his last outing against the Guardians, Nestor Cortes felt close. 

There were flashes — a mix of good and bad — of the left-hander rediscovering his All-Star success from 2022.

Eight shutout innings against the Marlins.

Nestor Cortes tossed a strong game against the Rays. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Strikeouts that strung together in other outings, even the one against Cleveland on April 14 when he allowed four runs in four innings.

All he needed, Cortes thought, was one or two more appearances to “turn that corner.” 

Because when that happened, outings like Saturday would follow.

Cortes tossed seven shutout innings in the Yankees’ 2-0, 10-inning loss to the Rays at Yankee Stadium, a nine-strikeout masterpiece — in which he scattered six hits and didn’t walk a batter — that will only result in a no-decision on his 2024 ledger.

But given Cortes’ injury-filled trudge through last year and the inconsistencies to start his current campaign, his fifth start could serve as a building block for a pivotal piece of the Yankees (14-7) rotation. 

“Hopefully today, I can continue to do that and go back to my old self like I was in 2022,” Cortes said. 

Cortes’ nine strikeouts and 17 swing-and-misses marked his most in a game since recording 12 and 19, respectively, on Oct. 1, 2022, against the Orioles.

Nestor Cortes had arguably his best start of the season on Saturday. Robert Sabo for NY Post

He couldn’t use the pump-fake pitch unveiled against the Guardians — MLB deemed that an illegal move, a verdict that manager Aaron Boone said didn’t surprise him — but relied on four-seamers, cutters, sweepers and changeups to keep Rays hitters off-balance. 

He, at one point, sped up his windup.

Another time, Cortes dipped his arm and threw a two-strike, sidearm sweeper past Isaac Paredes in the fourth inning for his sixth punchout — capping a frame where Tampa Bay didn’t put the ball in play.

And when Cortes got into a second-and-third jam with one out the following frame, he used consecutive strikeouts to escape unscathed. 

Cortes struck out nine in what became a no-decision. Robert Sabo for NY Post

“The fastball was really good,” Cortes said. “Really good areas. I felt like early on in that [fifth] inning, I came out a little slow out of the dugout. Wasn’t really commanding like I was the whole game. 

And then, Cortes added, he found “another gear.” 

It became difficult for Cortes to find that type of rhythm last season. He had the 28 starts and the 2.44 ERA from 2022 to build on.

Over time, he’d developed into the type of pitcher who had “really, really funky moves on the mound,” Boone said.

But in the moment, between a hamstring strain and a left rotator cuff strain, Cortes managed just 12 starts.

The question of whether Cortes could replicate his career-best campaign remained unanswered and carried over into 2024. 

After his 26 at-bats against the Rays, though, Cortes sensed that he was, finally, “in a good spot.” 

“[Saturday] was impressive,” Aaron Judge said. “He was working the corners. All his pitches were working.”


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