On July 4, 2021, Nestor Cortes Jr. made his first start of the season during the second game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. Since then, the 26-year-old has not only proven himself an extremely valuable player for a Yankees club that has constantly been plagued by injuries and infections, but has won the hearts of the fanbase.
You may not have expected it, but the crafty lefty has emerged as one of the most endearing members of the team. Let’s run down the five biggest reasons why we love Nestor Cortes Jr.:
He was always meant to be a Yankee
Cortes was selected in the 36th round of the 2013 draft by the New York Yankees, but that doesn’t mean he’s been with the organization since then. Prior to the 2018 season, the Orioles acquired him in the Rule 5 Draft, but then returned him in April 2018. After the 2019 season, the Yankees traded him for future considerations to the Seattle Mariners, where he spent the whole of 2020. The Yankees again acquired him in January 2021 and on May 30, 2021, selected his contract from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. It just goes to show that despite his extensive travels in just a few short years, he was always meant to be a Yankee.
He’s not afraid to walk amongst the people.
On August 7th, @ken_millerlopez tweeted a picture of a plain-clothed Cortes in all of his mustachioed glory, on the D train leaving the Yankee Stadium subway station. Sure, as far as Yankees go, he’s a guy who can generally get away with riding public transport, but we love a celebrity willing to slum it in the bowels of New York. And he’s wearing a “Protect Our Planet” shirt? We love that.
On the D line home from the yankee game and I see a guy board with a cortes Jersey, I think “that’s pretty unique” then I see over his shoulder and see Nestor Cortes himself. Give the legend a high five Prophetic. pic.twitter.com/dXdWNqxL6E— Ken Miller-Lopez (@ken_millerlopez) August 7, 2021
Any time a Yankees pitcher steps foot on the base paths, many fans have flashbacks to 2008, when Chien-Ming Wang tore a tendon and sprained his foot while rounding the bases, hastening the end of his career. So it’s understandable that when Nestor entered the game on July 30th by donning a helmet and pinch-running for Gio Urshela (the first time, by the way, that a Yankee pitcher pinch ran for a batter since AJ Burnett in 2011) Yankee Universe held its breath. Cortes successfully reached second, and even thought about going to third, before he turned back and narrowly avoided getting plunked in the head with the relay throw. We have to give him big props for:
A. Making it out alive, and
B. Giving us all something to laugh at.
If it weren’t for the iconic mustache (and even that has been a relatively recent development) you might think Nestor was a different player from one pitch to the next. This is because he throws with exceptional variety- Statcast attributes five different types of pitches to Cortes: the fastball, slider, curve, changeup, and sinker, all of which are implemented with precise placement.
Even more befuddling, however, is how Nestor varies his delivery. From the windup, batters are left to wonder whether Nestor might execute a quick pitch, lifting his leg once, show his back twice to the batter à la Luis Tiant, or some combination of odd toe taps, back shows, and then a quick pitch. Whatever it may be, batters also have to contend with Nestor’s different arm slots, which makes picking up the pitch even more difficult. Cortes calls it being creative. We call it endearingly quirky.
Nestor Cortes Jr.— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) July 13, 2021
Synced at first toe tap.
Ending at ball release.... if it happens. pic.twitter.com/UyWuukpGP3
According to Aaron Boone, Cortes is the type of teammate who is always willing to perform whatever role he is needed. We see this most clearly with his short stint as a pinch runner, but more crucially, Nestor proves his versatility by both starting and pitching out of the bullpen. Out of the 12 games he has pitched this season, Cortes has started four and finished three. No matter the situation, over 37.2 innings he has maintained a remarkable 2.15 ERA while allowing just two home runs and thirteen walks. Not only is this a huge improvement from last season, but his ability to step up and fill in, such as when Gerrit Cole was diagnosed with COVID-19 on August 2 and unable to start the next day, has earned Cortes the moniker “Ace” amongst Yankee fans.