In 2021, Nestor Cortes was one of the best stories in recent Yankees history. He had several other unsuccessful major league stops at various different teams, including one with his original team in the Bronx, mostly as a swingman/back-of-the-bullpen guy. Ahead of the season, the Yankees had signed him to a minor league deal, and while dealing with injuries in that department, called him up in May mostly as a long man to eat up some innings.
After a month of putting up an ERA near one, Cortes ended up in the rotation, where he pretty much stayed for the rest of the season. The lefty was good enough that coming into 2022, he was pretty much a given for the Yankees’ rotation (despite his own uncertainty). A couple months, an All-Star appearance, and another really good season later, he seems a likely part of the rotation for the foreseeable future.
2022 Statistics: 28 games, 158.1 innings, 2.44 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, 9.27 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 3.6 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Entering first year of arbitration
Coming into 2022, some hesitation about Cortes was understandable. His 2021 was only 93 innings, his first career extended stretch at the big league level. He’s not blowing 98 MPH fastballs past people and doesn’t have obviously unhittable stuff. It wouldn’t be unheard of for there to be some drop from his 2021.
Cortes threw 4.1 scoreless innings in his first start, and followed that with 12 strikeouts, including a immaculate inning, in his second, and was off to the races from there.
Through June 2nd, Cortes had a 1.50 ERA and was legitimately factoring into people’s very early Cy Young discussions. There was even some thought that he should start the All-Star Game for the American League. That talk quieted down though, as mid-June onward began his only real skid of the season when he gave up 17 runs in 28.2 innings over six starts.
However after that, Cortes got things back on track for the rest of the regular season. Before the year was out, he was indeed named to the AL All-Star team and got to pitch in the game at Dodger Stadium. With Yankees catcher Jose Trevino behind the plate, both were mic’d up and gave us a fun look at the process of pitching and calling pitches.
Cortes also did have a brief IL stint in late-August/early-September, dealing with a groin injury. The move seemed mostly precautionary and also designed to get him some rest, considering that he had already surpassed his highest inning total of his professional career. Despite that mini-setback, the southpaw came back and just generally kept on trucking, putting up the highest game score of any Yankee pitcher of the season in a 12-strikeout, one-hit performance against the Orioles on October 1st.
In the playoffs, Cortes was solid in his first career playoff appearance in Game 2 of the ALDS. After rain messed with the schedule, the Yankees ended up bringing him back on short rest in Game 5, and he put in a massive performance. He allowed just one run on three hits in five innings, helping the Yankees to a win in a do-or-die game against the Guardians. Cortes’ lone ALCS start went poorly, as he walked three in two innings after having not walked more than four batters in any start all season. However, it eventually came out that he was apparently somewhat compromised in that start, as he attempted to play through a groin injury. Even then, he battled hard for a couple innings before being burned by a Jeremy Peña home run.
A look at Cortes’ peripherals and expected stats show that he maybe was a tad bit worse than the numbers he put up, but not that much worse.
Although he doesn’t always flash the stuff that pops up on highlight reels, Cortes was very much the good pitcher that he appeared to be in 2022. There’s a chance he gets some down-ballot votes for the AL Cy Young Award this year, which no one would have imagined when he returned to the Yankees’ roster in May 2021.