Nasty Nestor immaculate on career day vs. O's

Cortes racks up career-high 12 K's, including 3 on 9 pitches in 4th

April 17th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Nestor Cortes recognized something special was happening in the fourth inning on Sunday at Camden Yards, showing video-game command as he dotted the outside corner with a cutter. He reared back to pump one more fastball through the strike zone, completing an immaculate inning.

Cortes struck out the side on nine pitches, highlighting an effort that saw the left-hander register a career-high 12 strikeouts over five-plus frames. Cortes proudly showcased a keepsake ball on the top shelf of his locker in the visiting clubhouse, the only thing the Yankees would like to keep from their 5-0 loss to the Orioles.

“It’s fun to be out there every single time when you’re on a roll like that,” Cortes said. “It just makes it a little sweeter. It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out with the ‘W’ today.”

In the fourth inning, Cortes struck out Anthony Santander on a foul tip, caught Ryan McKenna looking and fanned Robinson Chirinos to complete the immaculate inning -- believed to be the ninth in franchise history. Michael King (June 4) and Chad Green (July 4) achieved the feat last season.

“He was pretty special,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He really dialed in his command, and I thought the stuff was good. Another really strong outing by Nestor. You always want to see your guys rewarded when they perform really well, and he did.”

Not recognizing the significance of the Chirinos strikeout, catcher Kyle Higashioka lobbed the ball into the seats behind the third-base dugout, prompting cries of, “Shame!” from several players on the Yankees’ bench.

Gerrit Cole brokered a swap with the fan who snagged the souvenir, a young man in a pinstriped jersey who instead went home with a baseball autographed by Cole.

“Higgy pointed out the guy who [caught] it, so thankfully, that guy gave it back,” Cortes said.

Given Sunday’s performance, that lucky fan might have been just as thrilled if Cortes’ swirling signature appeared on the sweet spot. With Cortes' trademark variety of arm angles and pitch speeds, the Orioles were baffled by the mustachioed lefty, who scattered three hits with a walk in an 88-pitch performance.

“Early on, I was having a little trouble gripping the ball with the wind and how dry it was out there,” said Cortes, who tossed pitches as slow as 68.6 mph and as fast as 91.9 mph. “Once it started heating up and the wind calmed down, I was able to get a grip. After the third inning, I was on a roll, commanding every pitch for strikes and putting away hitters earlier.”

Cortes -- who also struck out the side in the second inning -- said that his cutter was particularly sharp to both sides of the plate, a pitch that he selected 36 times to generate seven swings and misses. Cortes used his fastball (29) and slider (16) heavily, keeping hitters honest with his sinker (5) and changeup (2).

"He's unpredictable,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “It's kind of funky -- he changes his arm slot. We had a lot of trouble with him; give him credit. He pitched a great game. We matched it on the mound.”

As Hyde alluded, just about the only thing Cortes couldn’t do was qualify for a victory. Cortes handed the baseball to Boone after surrendering a sixth-inning single to leadoff hitter Austin Hays, acknowledging that he felt close to being out of gas. By piling nine Easter eggs across the scoreboard, the Yankees spoiled Cortes’ effort, one that saw him strike out each hitter in Baltimore's starting lineup at least once.

“That was an impressive outing by Nestor,” said outfielder Aaron Judge. “We know, with our pitching staff, we’ve just got to get them one run and usually the ballgame is over.”

The Yankees scored in just three of 29 innings during their visit to the Inner Harbor, managing five total runs as they dropped two of three contests.

“We’ve got to find a way to get on the board and support our pitching,” Boone said.

Rougned Odor, Kelvin Gutiérrez and Jorge Mateo had run-scoring hits in a five-run eighth inning against relievers Jonathan Loáisiga and Lucas Luetge.

“As a pitcher, it’s kind of frustrating,” Cortes said. “But at the same time, I could easily be on the other side of the baseball and give up five or six [runs]. These hitters come out every day and do their job, trying to get as many hits as possible. It just wasn’t our day.”