Nestor Cortes uses Braves clash to tune up mindset for Opening Day showdown

Nestor Cortes throws in his last 2024 spring training game against the Braves on March 21, 2024.
Michael Bennington
Friday March 22, 2024

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When Nestor Cortes arrived at the New York Yankees’ spring training camp on February 14th, he faced a psychological obstacle to overcome. The lingering memories of the shoulder problems that had troubled him during the previous season were still fresh in his mind, and Nestor Cortes was constantly focused on avoiding a recurrence of those issues.

During the early stages of camp, Nestor Cortes adopted a cautious approach to his outings, a necessary precaution after the rotator cuff strains that had plagued him in 2023. This meant carefully monitoring his physical condition to ensure he remained in optimal shape for the next day’s workload.

However, Nestor Cortes demonstrated his resilience and ability to bounce back. After each outing, he recovered well, maintaining his strength and gradually increasing his workload. This culminated in an impressive performance on Thursday, where he pitched for over four innings and threw 75 pitches against the Atlanta Braves in his final spring training appearance. Nestor Cortes has clearly overcome the psychological hurdle he faced and is now prepared to make a valuable contribution to the Yankees’ pitching staff this season.

“Coming in here knowing I was going to face their A-lineup, it was like a tuneup for Houston,” he said after pitching against the Braves. “Houston isn’t any different from [the Braves] as far as firepower, so it was pretty good coming in here and facing those guys.”

Nestor Cortes announces readiness for Opening Day vs. Astros

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newsday

Nestor Cortes’ next pitching assignment won’t be in the preseason – it’ll be the real deal, the highly anticipated Opening Day matchup against the Houston Astros next Thursday. The New York Yankees have officially named him as their starter for the season opener, and the left-handed hurler is brimming with confidence after an impressive spring training performance.

Following a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves at CoolToday Park, Nestor Cortes expressed satisfaction with his outings during the exhibition games. He noted that a familiar rhythm, reminiscent of his pre-2023 form, had gradually returned with each start. Looking ahead, Nestor Cortes has plans to steadily increase his innings pitched, with the goal of reaching five or six innings in the near future.

For the first three innings against the Braves, who fielded their projected Opening Day lineup – a formidable offensive unit that led Major League Baseball in run production last season – Nestor Cortes showcased his sharpness and command.

While the Braves managed to score three runs, including a home run by Orlando Arcia, Nestor Cortes reached his predetermined pitch count with no outs in the fifth inning. Despite the loss, he relished the opportunity to face such a potent lineup in his final spring training outing.

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“It was good to see those guys,” Nestor Cortes remarked, reflecting on facing the Braves’ star-studded lineup. “They have similar firepower to Houston, so it was a good test overall.” He views pitching against such strong competition as valuable preparation for the upcoming season opener against the formidable Astros.

Nestor Cortes’ outing against the formidable Atlanta Braves lineup marked a triumphant conclusion to what both he and the New York Yankees organization consider a promising spring training campaign. Despite being a lowly 36th-round draft pick, Cortes has blossomed into a vital cog in the team’s pitching staff.

A rebound on the cards

Yankees‘ manager Aaron Boone did not hold back in his effusive praise, describing Nestor Cortes’ performance as “excellent.” Boone emphasized the importance of Nestor Cortes stepping up and delivering, particularly with the team’s ace, Gerrit Cole, sidelined for the first two months of the season due to injury.

Rewind to December, when Nestor Cortes began his throwing program, and anxieties about his shoulder lingered, a remnant of the issues that had plagued him the previous year. He spent a significant portion of his time in Tampa, Florida, rehabbing and training at the Yankees’ player development complex.

However, by mid-to-late January, a couple of live batting practice sessions ignited a newfound confidence in Nestor Cortes. He felt ready to unleash his full arsenal of pitches without any lingering concerns.

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Reflecting on those initial doubts in December, Nestor Cortes admitted to questioning whether he would be able to reach certain velocity benchmarks. But as spring training progressed, his confidence soared. He consistently saw his velocity climb throughout the exhibition games, ranging from 90 to 92 mph, with bursts reaching 93 to 94 mph. Overall, Nestor Cortes feels happy with his development and current form as the regular season approaches.

Nestor Cortes’ impressive outing against the potent Atlanta Braves lineup wasn’t merely a personal triumph – it served as a validation of the positive scouting reports the New York Yankees had compiled on him throughout the spring training campaign.

Manager Aaron Boone echoed these glowing evaluations, expressing his satisfaction with Nestor Cortes’ smooth progression and development. Boone specifically noted how the pitcher looked like his usual self on the mound, particularly in terms of his fastball velocity and movement. He also praised the effectiveness of Nestor Cortes’ cutter and other secondary pitches, highlighting his overall consistency and command throughout the exhibition games. In Boone’s eyes, his pitching repertoire appears well-honed and ready for the rigors of the regular season.

As Nestor Cortes prepares to make the major leap from Grapefruit League contests to facing the formidable Houston Astros on Opening Day, he exudes an aura of confidence and appears to be in peak physical condition.

“We were throwing live BP’s at Himes [the Yankees’ player development facility] and that was like, ‘OK, now I’m good to go,’” Cortes said. “My velo has been up the whole spring. That’s a positive way to look at it. I’ve been 90-92 for the most part … I’m bouncing back good so I feel like I’m in a good spot right now.”

Acknowledging the weight of the situation, Nestor Cortes expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to start on Opening Day, especially with the team’s ace, Gerrit Cole, sidelined due to injury. He clearly appreciates the trust Boone and the Yankees organization have placed in him, and he’s fully prepared to embrace the role and make a significant contribution to the team’s success.

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