Yankees’ funky lefty starter shows signs of recovery in first spring training start

mlb: spring training-minnesota twins at new york yankees, nestor cortes
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that the New York Yankees have a projected top-10 starting rotation in ERA for the 2024 season, they are relying on several pitchers to bounce back from injury concerns.

Carlos Rodon showed some positive momentum in his first spring training start, hitting 95 mph with his fastball and sporting a slimmer look. The Yankees got their first look at Nestor Cortes on Monday afternoon, enjoying his first spring training start following a lengthy off-season rehabilitation from a shoulder injury.

Nestor Cortes’s Comeback and Performance

The 29-year-old is coming off a down season in 2023, pitching just 63.1 innings, hosting a 4.97 ERA, 69.1% left-on-base rate, and 26.3% ground ball rate. Cortes relies on his funky delivery and deviating pitch mix, but he lost velocity on his fastball and was struggling with location due to the rotator cuff strain.

The team had to shut down Cortes prematurely and survive with a few spot starters and depth pieces last year. However, Cortes is only one year removed from tossing 158.1 innings, enjoying a 2.44 ERA and his first All-Star appearance. The Yankees have seen what Cortes can do when at the top of his game, and there were some positive takeaways from his performance on Monday.

Cortes tossed 2.2 innings against Minnesota, striking out four batters and giving up seven hits and two earned runs. On paper, those numbers don’t look great, but he topped out at over 93 mph on his four-seam fastball, which is above his career averages.

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Evaluating Cortes’s Pitching Mechanics and Future Outlook With the Yankees

Seeing normal velocity and good spin rates is exactly what the Bombers wanted to see out of a key arm in their rotation. Cortes relied heavily on his fastball, throwing 23 four-seamers and 15 cutters, mixing in eight sweepers and two change-ups. His sweeper produced a 2572.6 spin rate at 78.6 mph, generating 15.1 inches of horizontal break. Cortes finds success baiting opposing batters and using different arm slots to confuse their pitch diagnosis.

After Monday’s game, Cortes was content with how his body felt, stating: “Happy where my body’s at right now.”

Ultimately, the most important part of Cortes’s first spring training start is the velocity and the fact he walked away healthy and ready to ramp up towards another appearance. For now, Rodon and Cortes are on watch due to their previous injuries, but this is a great first step for both, who emerged with plenty to work on and solid velocity numbers to suggest they are on track to start the season at 100% capacity.

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