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Yankees Sequence of the Week: Cordero vs. Rendon (4/18)

Two members of the 2018 Nationals meet again in battle.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the aesthetics of pitching speeds, paces, and approaches, Jimmy Cordero joyously occupies the end of the spectrum opposite to Pedro Martínez or, more contemporaneously, Johnny Cueto. Cordero doesn’t dance lightly on the mound, painting corners like it’s a video game with the controls set to easy. He cuffs his jersey sleeves at the biceps and hurls the ball into the same general area as the strike zone, a less-wild right-handed disciple of the José Alvarado school of “good luck getting a piece of the ball, because everyone involved is mostly guessing.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be bringing you some more technical, less badly-poetic details about how Cordero, whose ERA still sits at a solid 3.24 even after the earned run that Franchy Cordero bestowed upon him last night.

Today, we’re talking about a different Jimmy Cordero sequence, one that hints at why he may be a true weapon for the Yankees as the season goes on. I call it, “How To Strike a Hitter Out (And Completely Deserve It) While Executing Two of Five Pitches, Only One of Which Was Even Fully In the Strike Zone.”

The victim? Anthony Rendon, who has swung at just under 12 percent of the 0-0 pitches he’s seen, ninth-lowest in the league. Even if he was inclined to be more aggressive, it probably wouldn’t have been on this pitch, which started near the middle but wound up just barely clipping the strike zone under the hitter’s hands:

Again, Cordero isn’t Alvarado-wild, but his control is probably average at its best. Giving him an easy strike one probably isn’t a great idea, because you’re only giving him more margin of error with his slider. Here, he can’t quite get the release right, and it spins out for a non-competitive pitch.

The smallest margins make the biggest differences: instead of a 2-0 count and Rendon advantage that we’d have if that first pitch was another inch or two inside, it’s a 1-1 count, and he doesn’t need to throw a sinker right down the middle to avoid a 3-0 count. Instead, he aims inside, and misses inside, but because Rendon had already seen a similar pitch stay on the plate for a strike, he instead fights it foul, and once again gives Cordero the count advantage.

With the two-strike count assured, Cordero can go back to trying to get his slider to work. When it does, it’s been quite good — no hits allowed, 40 percent whiff rate, all that. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. But against Rendon, he just couldn’t quite get it to work. When he snaps it off well, the side-to-side sweep it’s added since 2020 mirrors his sinker much more nicely. Unfortunately, again, he couldn’t do it!

Breaking balls are hard to execute, and Cordero hasn’t been throwing this particular breaking ball for a super long time. It’s also a fresh inning, so he hadn’t thrown it to any hitters before Rendon. So hey, why not try it a third time? That’s the charm, right?

So they say, at least. One of two things must of seemed likely to Rendon: either that was a sinker that was going to run out of the zone for ball three, or it was yet another backup slider that would spin over the top of the zone. It was neither: it was strike three.

Was that really an AB that Cordero deserved to win? I think so, but that’s just me. He’s going to win a lot of battles this year where he doesn’t know where his sinker is going, or where his slider isn’t sliding, He might lose a few, but he’ll win enough that when you throw in all the times where he does know where it’s going, you might get a pretty nice stat line out of it at the end of the season.