Feeling 'better than expected,' Cortes throws live BP

Krook impressing, Loáisiga preparing for Classic, Domínguez to start Saturday

February 23rd, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees manager Aaron Boone was encouraged by the work of left-hander Nestor Cortes during Thursday’s live batting practice at Steinbrenner Field, saying his pitcher is on schedule to work in Spring Training games.

Cortes, who suffered a right hamstring strain that prompted him to drop out of the World Baseball Classic, faced five batters without incident and worked with sharp command while mixing in his changeup.

“I feel like the bullpens, you don’t really use your legs as much as you would in a live game,’’ Cortes said. “So I think that was the biggest hurdle for me, going out there and actually being on a real mound facing live hitters. They’re going to swing off you, so you’re probably going to use your legs a little more.’’

Cortes, who was 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 28 starts last season, worked a pair of groundouts and a popup, while striking out Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo. Earlier in the week, Cortes termed his progress at “75 to 80 percent,’’ but now he’s looking to push his health into the 90 percent range.

“I thought actually I was a lot better than what I thought I would be,’’ Cortes said. “Just because in my first live [batting practice], I didn’t know how my leg was going to react with the intensity and facing those guys, so I thought it was a lot better than I expected.’’

Boone said Cortes will likely pitch in another live batting practice situation before being inserted into an exhibition game.

“His bullpens have been really sharp, and then his stuff and command … that’s as sharp as it gets right there,’’ Boone said. “He mixed in a good changeup, which was encouraging to see. Really good stuff from him.

“The hamstring keeps responding. He’s still in there, finishing his conditioning stuff. He ran and did some agility stuff on the field. And he threw. It has responded really well, which is good to see.’’

Keep an eye on Krook

Left-hander Matt Krook (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), who also threw live BP, has continued to catch Boone’s eye. Krook, selected by the Marlins with the 35th overall pick in 2013 and then in the fourth round by the Giants in '16, was 10-7 with a 4.09 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 138 2/3 innings last season for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was then added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster.

“He’s a real problem for lefties,’’ Boone said. “At the end of last season, we were seriously considering him for the postseason because of what he brought to the table. He has enough weapons to be a starter.

“It’s that next level of command that’s going to allow him [to find a spot]. He’s an interesting guy.’’

Loáisiga faring well

Boone has endorsed the participation of right-hander Jonathan Loáisiga with Team Nicaragua in the Classic even though he said there’s also concern with the potential of injury to a pitcher.

“He has had some hiccups [from] an injury standpoint over the years, but you’re also really excited for him and you understand how it’s important with the sense of pride and him wanting to get prepared as best as he can for it,’’ Boone said. “You want to get him there safely and built up in a good spot. The one thing he has done is I feel like he’s really sharp right now, really throwing the ball well.’’

Loáisiga finished 2021 with a 2.17 ERA, 18 holds and 69 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings.

“Unbelievable season,’’ Boone said. “He was one of the best relievers in the league.’’

Last season, partially due to a right shoulder strain, Loáisiga regressed to a 2-3 mark with a 4.13 ERA.

“He got off to a bit of a slow start, had the injury where he’s down for a little bit,’’ Boone said. “But when he came back, he started to turn it on in the second half and we started to see that 2021 [form]. For the first time in the postseason, he was that guy that we know he can be. He has gained experience and grown from that, and those are things that are going to serve him well.’’

Domínguez heads to the opener

Boone said most of the Yankees’ starters will not be brought to Clearwater for Saturday’s spring opener against the Phillies. But he expects intriguing outfielder Jasson Domínguez, the youngest player in camp at age 20, to be in the lineup.

Domínguez, who signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2019, moved across three levels of the Yankees’ system last season, finishing with a .273 average, an .836 OPS and 37 stolen bases in 120 games.

Domínguez is expected to figure more heavily into the Yankees’ plans in 2024, but Saturday could be the start of some coming attractions.

“He has improved in every aspect and kind of got better as the competition got better,’’ Boone said. “He’s another guy who had a really good winter and looks really good so far this spring. We’re looking forward to seeing him [in a spring game].’’