Should the Yankees be worried about No. 4 starter after shelling?

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are relying heavily on several starting pitchers rebounding from injury this upcoming season. First and foremost, Carlos Rodon needs to play a significant role in the team’s 2024 plans, but he struggled to open spring training, working through his pitching program.

Of course, it is safe to take spring performances with a grain of salt, especially when looking at Rodon’s 6.35 ERA over 5.2 innings spanning two starts.

At this point, Rodon is walking and giving up more homers than ever before, but the sample is far too small, and he is re-introducing some pitches to his sequence that can benefit him during the regular season. However, Rodon isn’t the only starter struggling to get going. Nestor Cortes is also having a tough time adjusting after dealing with a rotator cuff strain last year.

Cortes has pitched a total of 10 innings in three starts this spring. While his strikeouts per nine are up to 11.70, he has an 8.10 ERA with a 61.7% left-on-base rate and 35.3% ground ball rate. On Saturday against the Minnesota Twins, Cortes gave up six earned runs over nine hits in just 3.1 innings. He did collect six strikeouts in that timeframe, but the Twins took full advantage of his off day, and the Yankees will certainly have plenty to sift through from that disappointing outing.

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The Yankees Don’t Hold Much Stock in Spring Training Performances

Again, it is essential to note that spring training is meant for shaking off the rust and introducing new pitches that may take time to assimilate fully. When it comes to Nestor, he’s also coming back from an injury that limited him to 63.1 innings last year, a 4.97 ERA, with a 69.1% left on-base rate. Ideally, the Yankees would get the All-Star version of Cortes from 2022, but that is an optimistic ask coming off injury.

The most imperative takeaway is that Cortes walked off the mound healthy and simply had a bad day. It is important to reference his second appearance of spring against Detroit. He gave up just one earned run over four innings with three strikeouts. Obviously, he is still trying to limit quality contact from opposing batters and trend toward a clean bill of health entering the regular season.

Taking a Look at Cortes’s Pitch Mix on Saturday

Against the Twins, Cortes saw a slight dip in velocity with his four-seam fastball, throwing it 29 times and producing 19.2 inches of vertical movement.

Clearly, he’s focusing on utilizing his fastball, only throwing his sweeper eight times and change-up five times. As mentioned, it is important to understand that pitchers are mostly working on individual pitches to round out the shape and spin rates.

The Yankees strategize around these games with a plan and course of action that is meant to help build up their primary arms over the course of a month.

Cortes is clearly in the middle of that process, and his performance shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However, it is always nice to see a positive outing and numbers that suggest he’s trending in the right direction. For now, as long as he’s healthy, we should feel confident that the rotation should bounce back compared to their contributions in 2023.

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