How did Nestor Cortes, who Yankees traded twice, become their most reliable pitcher?

Nestor Cortes

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The Yankees traded Nestor Cortes twice before signing him for a minor contract in 2021. When he thought that his career was over, the lefty turned out to be the Yankees‘ most reliable pitcher. He is set to start ALDS Game 2 for New York against the Cleveland Guardians at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.

After Gerrit Cole won Game 1 for the Yankees by a score of 4-1, expectations are high from Nestor Cortes. Both pitchers are excellent and at the top of their professions. Cole is the typical ace. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, he looks like he came straight out of Central Casting for a baseball movie, if not a laboratory for pitching skills.

Nestor Cortes has a very different background, style, and contract. It is very easy for Game starter Cole to throw at 100 mph, and it looks easy for him to do so. Cortes, who turned 27 late, has recently gone from going 91 mph to 93 or 94 mph. But that’s still below the average in the big leagues. He uses trickery and creativity, just like he does in his job.

Cole has the right mix of speed and power to be an ace. Nestor Cortes seems to make things up as he goes, which is sometimes true.

Cole has been taken in the first round of drafts twice. Nestor Cortes, on the other hand, was originally a 36th-round pick out of Hialeah High (Florida) in that working-class suburb of Miami, and he only got that high because he worked hard.

Cole has the physique for the role, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 240 pounds. Since 2018, he has played more innings than anyone else and won more games than anyone else combined. Despite the criticism over his record-setting $324 million contract, he is the horse in this race.

Everyone can connect to Nestor Cortes. Because of his height and weight—5 feet 11 inches and 210 pounds, respectively—he appears to be more of a fan than a professional athlete, especially when he enters the bar wearing a jersey for the Miami Dolphins.

“He looks like you and I,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He seems like someone you could relate to. You think you might be able to do what he does, but you can’t.

Gerrit Cole has the biggest contract ever given to a pitcher in the major leagues. Nestor Cortes made just over the MLB minimum of $700,000. However, with the new pre-arbitration bonus pool to reward new stars, he may make as much as $1 million, which is still a lot more than he ever made in a season before.

Nestor Cortes was a star in the minor league while Cole was making MLB All-Star teams and getting votes for Cy Young award. There were people who thought he could make it in the Yankees’ system, but his draft status and speed readings don’t give him a lot of chances. Resolve doesn’t go at the top of a scouting report.

According to the pitcher:

“I remember coming up they would say I would be a fifth starter at best, but my role would [likely] be a long guy in the bullpen. But as soon as I tasted what it was like to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues it made me work twice as hard because I wouldn’t want to give it up.”

Before Nestor Cortes became a folk hero at the Stadium this year when he was 12-4 and had a 2.44 ERA, which was a full run better than Cole. He was put on the waiver, released, and traded for money to spend on others.

Despite all these discouraging steps, Nestor Cortes just kept playing baseball and did a few things to help him play better. He picked up a few miles per hour, stopped trying to fit in, and got fitter by working out with trainer Andre Enrique at Zoom Fitness in Miami. Cortes had one goal and one interest. He always says that after each release, he never thought about doing anything else. In his head and heart, he will always and only ever be a pitcher.

Scouting director of the Yankees Damon Oppenheimer told about him:

“Nestor believed in Nestor. He put all his eggs in one basket, and he worked like hell for that basket. Credit goes all to him.”

Now that Nestor Cortes is doing it in the big leagues. He has something in common with Cole. Both did about the same in 2022, but Cortes did a better job. So, Boone gave it thought about to let Cortes start in Game 1 and this delayed his Cole confirmation.

For a long time, Nestor Cortes was the only one who could have thought he would be talking to Cole or even be on the same rotation as him. The Yankees traded him to the Orioles in 2018 and the Mariners in 2020, who were both pretty bad teams at the time.

Nestor Cortes always did well in the minor leagues, but his teammates say that when he played in the big leagues, he tried to fit in and wasn’t himself. But Cortes is now a better version of himself because he worked hard. Even many see him surpassing Cole, the Yankees’ highest-paid pitcher.

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