Yankees’ lefty starter could be the odd man out when Gerrit Cole returns from injury

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, nestor cortes
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With Gerrit Cole’s rehabilitation progressing smoothly and his return to the Yankees anticipated next month, there’s mounting speculation about adjustments to the starting rotation. Some analysts are suggesting Luis Gil might be moved due to his injury history and the team’s strategy to manage his innings. However, a growing conversation suggests Nestor Cortes could transition to a long-relief role, which might better utilize his skillset given current performance levels.

Gerrit Cole’s Impending Return and the Rotation Dilemma

Cortes is rebounding from a rotator cuff injury that significantly limited his play in 2023, resulting in only 63.1 innings pitched and a 4.97 ERA.

This season, he has already pitched 53.2 innings, but his current 4.02 ERA indicates that he hasn’t fully returned to form. His strikeouts have decreased to 8.55 per nine innings, and his ground ball rate has dropped to 31%, both below his career averages. Despite an expected 2.84 ERA and opposing batters hitting an expected .216 against him, Cortes has experienced volatile outings, including a challenging game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
Mar 3, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers in the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Cortes’ Struggles and Yankees’ Rotation Considerations

In his recent start against the Rays, Cortes surrendered four earned runs, including two home runs, over 5.1 innings. He delivered 89 pitches, with three walks and five strikeouts, showing signs of struggle, especially early in the game. “I think it’s a little bit with my mechanics, my delivery,” Cortes remarked. “I was able to fix it after the third inning and was able to dial in more.” Despite these adjustments, a Randy Arozarena three-run homer early in the game put the Yankees at a significant disadvantage.

Beyond Cortes, other candidates like Marcus Stroman, Gil, and Clarke Schmidt could potentially move to the bullpen. Yet, it’s essential for the team to leverage their most effective players. If Cortes continues to show inconsistency, the choice might become clearer. Over his last four starts, he has allowed 13 runs across 24.2 innings, which equates to a 4.74 ERA.

Cortes relies primarily on a mix of a four-seam fastball, cutter, and sweeper. This season, his four-seamer, averaging 91.4 mph, has not been as effective, with opposing batters hitting .261 against it. Although his pitches are showing more break than in the previous year, his pitch location suffers from inconsistent mechanics.

As the Yankees consider their options, it seems crucial not to sideline Gil given his strong performances this season. The decision on who to shift could significantly impact the team’s strategy as they anticipate Cole’s return to the rotation.

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