Nestor Cortes got burned on a some mistakes in his first game action of the spring and ran out of steam late, but also looked to be in generally good shape in a 3.1 inning, five-run outing against Toronto’s A-team this afternoon.
Despite missing the first three weeks of action with a hamstring injury suffered in February, Cortes’s low pitch count allowed him to work longer than we (read: I) may have been anticipating. He wound up facing three hitters in the fourth inning before hitting his limit and exiting with 52 pitches (35 strikes) along with three hits, three strikeouts, and three walks alongside those five runs, the last two of which came in to score against Michael King.
Cortes filled up the strike zone but had trouble keeping his cutter out of bad spots, and was subsequently punished by home runs from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Whit Merrifield on pitches that might as well have been on a tee.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - Toronto Blue Jays (3)* pic.twitter.com/rUCfuJp0bB— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 18, 2023
Whit Merrifield - Toronto Blue Jays (1)* pic.twitter.com/YKHsYTDmkJ— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 18, 2023
Excepting those, until the consecutive walks he issued to finish his outing Cortes looked much like the same All-Star pitcher we saw last season. Operating primarily with his cutter/four-seamer and mixing in a sweeping curveball and a changeup, his velocity, spin, and movement were more or less in line with his 2022 numbers. Interestingly, Blue Jays broadcasters noted the way in which he already seemed to be manipulating pace and the pitch clock rules to his advantage, perhaps another addition to the usual bag of tricks he also broke out once or twice this afternoon. He wasn’t terribly sharp at hitting his spots, but he was close enough and still generated enough weak contact to be satisfied, for a first look of the year.
Those runs were more than enough for Bowden Francis, who got stretched out to a third inning of work for the first time this season. Though his velocity dipped into the 91-92 mph range after opening at 94-95 and touching 96, he still struck out five and didn’t allow a run outside of a shaky first inning. That opening frame started with an Anthony Volpe walk and then Aaron Judge scored him on a double, a sequence of events we sure hope to see much more of before the decade turns over. Giancarlo Stanton subsequently drove in Judge with a single and now has a four-game spring hitting streak following an icy start — today was his second multi-hit effort of the four.
Francis managed to settle down nicely after Stanton’s single, but Volpe followed up an 0-for-4 day by seeing him as well as any Yankee hitter. In their first matchup, Francis stayed entirely on the outer half of the plate, away from Volpe, ultimately losing him to a walk on seven pitches. He did draw a called strike and a swinging strike on a pair of fastballs, but notably, Volpe adjusted quickly. He fouled a third fastball in the zone en route to the aforementioned walk, then fought off another to open his second time up before seizing a hold of one for a 106 mph smack up the middle when Francis tried it again and missed low and over the plate:
Anthony Volpe 106.8 mph single pic.twitter.com/gmeUp8KRbO— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) March 18, 2023
That single was the last bit of damage the Yankees did for pretty much the rest of the game: Anthony Bass, Jackson Rees, Tim Mayza, Thomas Hatch, Brandon Eisert, and Matt Peacock succeeded Francis with six innings of three-hit, three-walk ball, striking out six and keeping the Yankees off the scoreboard any further.
Coming on in relief of Cortes, King wasn’t quite in his most effective form, with his sinker sitting a tick lower than usual and allowing a bit more hard contact than we’ve been used to. On the brighter side, Jonathan Loáisiga looked in midseason form in his first appearance in navy blue since returning from a World Baseball Classic stint with his native Nicaragua. It took him just eight pitches to throw a scoreless sixth, zipping in his sinker at a 98 mph average. Clay Holmes looked similarly ready to go for the regular season, following that with a nine-pitch seventh inning in which Kevin Kiermaier, Will Robertson, and Addison Barger were entirely overwhelmed by his sinker-slider attack, registering a tick below Loáisiga at a 97 mph average for the former.
Closing out the action for the Yankees, Ian Hamilton ran into some eighth inning trouble, ceding a walk, a hit-by-pitch, and a single, but ultimately worked his way out of the jam against other Blue Jays hitters unlikely to see much or any big league playing time. Oswaldo Cabrera got some late-inning burn for the Yankees at both second and first base, flying out in both of his plate appearance, and Andres Chaparro struck out in his sole trip to the plate.
The Yankees are back at Steinbrenner Field tomorrow afternoon, hosting the Baltimore Orioles. Gerrit Cole looks to work deeper in what’s on pace to be his second-to-last tune-up before Opening Day opposite Tyler Wells, who’s looking to turn around a rough spring in making the O’s rotation. First pitch is at 1:07 p.m. ET!