The top spot as far as storyline for the 2022 Yankees go was obviously Aaron Judge and his 62 home runs. As far as No. 2 goes, you would’ve been hard pressed to find anything better than Nestor Cortes. After a couple mostly substandard runs in the majors, he had broke through with the 2021 Yankees, and then made a rotation spot his own in 2022. Cortes was named an AL All-Star in ‘22 and finished eighth in Cy Young voting. It was a pretty remarkable rise.
Coming into 2023, there was no question about his status in the Yankees’ rotation. It was all about seeing if he could continue his impressive run and contribute to what — on paper — seemed like it could be a formidable rotation.
As it turned out, both he — and that rotation — did not have the best of seasons.
2023 Statistics: 12 games, 63.1 innings pitched, 4.97 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 4.84 xFIP, 9.52 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 0.8 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible
To start off the season, Cortes looked like he hadn’t missed a beat after 2022. Through his first five starts of the season, he had a 3.49 ERA and a 3.50 FIP, while striking out 28 in 28.1 innings.
However, in his sixth start Cortes got hit around by the Rangers to the tune of seven runs in 4.2 innings. That started a run of six starts through the end of May where he had a 6.68 ERA and a 5.55 FIP in 31 innings and just generally didn’t look like the pitcher we had come to know over the previous two seasons. As it turned out, that’s because maybe something wasn’t entirely right.
Cortes’ 2023 had already started off an a bad note on an injury front. He had signed up to be part of the pitching staff for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. However, a hamstring issue led him to pull out of that before the tournament started. Back at Yankees spring training, he ended up being ready for the MLB season, but that was a bit of a sour note considering all the other injury issues Yankees’ players started dealing with at that time.
Going back to the regular season timeline, Cortes started dealing with some issues in his arm after the May 30th game against the Mariners. The Yankees initially tried to just skip a start and give him some time, but they eventually needed to place him on the 15-day injured list in early June with a rotator cuff injury. That 15-day stint soon turned into a 60-day one, knocking him out until early August.
Cortes finally returned on August 5th against the Astros, and looked a lot like the starter we had come to know. He went just four innings as the Yankees tried to build him back up, but he struck out eight and gave up just one run on one hit. While the Yankees’ season was already somewhat going off the rails at that point, adding Cortes back into the rotation seemed like it would be a nice morale boost in addition to the help he would provide in the rotation.
However just as quickly as he returned, he was gone again. Less than a week after that Astros’ start, Cortes returned to the IL with the same rotator cuff injury that he had just gotten over. While he initially stayed on the 15-day IL, he was eventually transferred to the 60-day one again, officially ending his season.
It’s hard to know exactly how much of Cortes’ struggles were him taking a big step back and how much was the injuries affecting him every time he seemed to get going. The contact he allowed this year was a little harder than the past two seasons, but not by much, and a lot of the other peripheral stats were mostly in line with 2021 and ‘22.
In general, the hope for 2024 has to be that he can stay healthier and get back to form. Watching “Nasty Nestor” become a legitimate near the top of the rotation option was incredible in 2021 and ‘22.