The Yankees have suffered an absurd amount of injuries this season. Yet, every time an injury occurs, the team has had someone ready to fill in and take advantage of a big opportunity. When James Paxton and CC Sabathia were placed on the injured list, their replacements were hardly mentioned because no big name was added, no much-anticipated prospect was called up. Instead, the organization decided to use bullpen games to cover for these losses in the rotation.
Earlier this season the lone long man was Luis Cessa, but because of injuries Chance Adams, Nestor Cortes Jr., and David Hale have joined him. All three have played their role in relief tossing multiple innings a game, but Cortes Jr. stands out because in a Yankee bullpen where high velocity rules the day, Cortes Jr. doesn’t have one pitch averaging more than 90 mph.
Cortes Jr.’s four seam fastball, which averages 88.8 mph, has accounted for 50.8% of his pitches so far. His first two appearances weren’t impressive at all, totaling six innings with six earned runs, and two home runs. But in his third and most notable appearance this season, where Cortes Jr. was able to keep the Yankees in the game against the Royals, he changed up his game plan. He did so quite literally by using his changeup.
According to Statcast, Cortes Jr. has thrown his changeup 31 times this season, all to right-handed hitters. It has a current batting average and slugging of .111. Interestingly, his changeup was barely used in his first two games. Against the Royals, Cortes Jr. threw a changeup 20 times out of 72 for a total of 27.8%. That means that during his first two appearances, he only used his changeup 8.8% of the time.
We might not know why he decided to raise his changeup usage, but it probably has to do with the fact that his secondary pitch, the slider, is not performing. Cortes Jr. threw a slider at the major-league level last season just twice. As of this season, the slider has been thrown 56 times for a 28.4% usage. The recently introduced slider has not worked out for him, posting a .500 batting average with a .800 slugging percentage. Even though he has not completely stopped using it, this looks like it could be the reason he switched his secondary pitch to the changeup.
With a switch of secondary pitches, this still leaves his main pitch as the fourseam fastball. It might not be blowing away hitters, but it is getting the job done. After throwing it 100 times in 2019, it has a batting average of .211 and .263 slugging. These marks aren’t amazing, but despite his low velocity, Cortes Jr. has been able to use it successfully. If he continues to use his changeup—which now has a whiff rate of 50%—he might start finding more success. He doesn’t profile as the typical Yankees reliever, but he has the chance to use finesse rather than stuff to compete.