Nestor after debut: 'I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now'

March 18th, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Nestor Cortes opted against busting out any of his trademark hesitations or befuddling arm angles in his spring debut, looking to find his own level of comfort. But fear not: the ‘Nasty Nestor’ funk is coming soon.

Confined to live batting-practice sessions for most of the exhibition slate while recovering from a right hamstring strain, Cortes was hit hard by the Blue Jays on Saturday at TD Ballpark, permitting five runs in 3 1/3 innings. But the lefty was pleased to exit the Yankees’ 5-2 loss feeling strong, giving him a base to build upon over the next two weeks.

“With my first outing, as long as I get out of there healthy and feeling good about myself, that was the most important thing for me,” Cortes said.

It was also Cortes’ first game experience with the pitch timer, though he worked with it during his previous sessions at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., and said he felt “comfortable.” The Yankees’ pitchers recently discussed the timer in the clubhouse, with Cortes’ herky-jerky hesitations coming up in conversation.

“As soon as I start my windup, the clock should stop, and I should be able to do what I want,” Cortes said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll test that out in the next start, do some of the weird stuff, see if that’s OK.”

The timer could prompt Cortes to make a quicker decision to flex his creativity, though he typically was among the Majors’ fastest-working pitchers before the rule change.

Generally speaking, Cortes decides how to throw the next pitch between receiving the ball from the catcher and setting foot on the rubber, based largely upon the hitters’ reactions and a sense of the game situation.

“Once [the catcher] is calling the pitches, I have a good idea of what I want to do,” Cortes said. “And I think about all my stuff when I’m pumping my leg that’s going to drive. So once I start my movement, everything is improvised right there and then. I don’t think it should be a problem.”

The 28-year-old Cortes is fully recovered from the hamstring strain he sustained in early February and could begin the season as the Yankees’ fourth starter, according to manager Aaron Boone. Cortes is about a week behind the other hurlers in terms of preparation and stamina.

“All in all, I thought it was a pretty good day,” Boone said. “He finished up pretty well, and we got his workload to where we wanted. I think his stuff looks good."

Though it was not necessarily by design, Saturday’s outing allowed Cortes to test his mettle against a Toronto lineup that looked much like one he will face during the regular season. Boone said he would have preferred a softer opponent, but “we needed to get him out there.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. pounced on a hanging slider to launch a solo homer in the first inning, and Whit Merrifield belted a cutter for a two-run homer in the second inning.

Cortes permitted walks to two of the three hitters he faced in the fourth inning, and both runners scored against reliever Michael King. Cortes walked three and struck out four, throwing 35 of 52 pitches for strikes.

“That pitch to Merrifield was supposed to be in, and then Vladdy jumped on a slider,” Cortes said. “Other than that, there was maybe one hard-hit ball. I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now."