Cortes (rotator cuff) returns to IL, unlikely to pitch for Yanks again this year

August 11th, 2023

MIAMI -- This was supposed to be a homecoming weekend for Nestor Cortes, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, Fla., cheering for the Dontrelle Willis and Pudge Rodriguez era of Marlins baseball and attending as many games as possible. He’d never pitched from the mound at what is now known as loanDepot park, circling Saturday’s start on his calendar.

Panic set in as Cortes attempted to play catch on Thursday afternoon, unable to raise his left arm with any intensity. An MRI showed the same rotator cuff issue that cost him two months earlier this year, and as Cortes returned to the 15-day injured list prior to Friday's series opener in Miami, it appears that his season may be over.

“It’s definitely tough,” Cortes said. “If we’re going to make a run at it, we need everybody healthy -- not only myself but [Carlos] Rodón and all the other pitchers. It’s tough to swallow this right now.”  

Though manager Aaron Boone said that surgery does not appear to be a consideration, Cortes will not throw for at least three weeks, making it unlikely that the 28-year-old can return before the end of the regular season.

“We’ll see,” Boone said. “It’ll probably be tough with that kind of timeline. I know they’re going to re-evaluate him in three weeks, so you’re talking three to four weeks of no throwing, essentially starting over from there with catch play. It would be pretty difficult.”

Boone said that and , both of whom were promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday, will slot into the rotation.

Cortes’ most recent outing was an abbreviated gem, striking out eight over four innings against the Astros on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

That start came in place of a scheduled rehab start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, when Domingo Germán left the club to seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Cortes was plugged in to toss 64 pitches against Houston, combining with four relievers for one of the Bombers’ best-pitched games of the season.  

“Taking everything into consideration, I feel like I hit my all-time top velo last game, facing the Houston Astros -- not a Double-A team,” Cortes said. “Maybe there was some added [adrenaline] there. A lot of stuff that can happen that led to this. Hopefully I can get through it this time around.”

If Cortes’ season is over, he would finish with a 5-2 record and a 4.97 ERA in 12 starts. An All-Star last year, Cortes missed most of Spring Training with a hamstring injury, which he has speculated could have started the ripple effect of shoulder trouble.

“It’s hard to pinpoint something,” Cortes said. “It’s probably a combination, a little bit of everything. I felt really good coming into Houston.”

While ace Gerrit Cole is the front-runner to secure the American League Cy Young Award and Clarke Schmidt has provided stability, the rest of the Yankees’ rotation has been a disappointment, especially considering Boone’s preseason optimism about having the best starting five of his managerial tenure.

Rodón has made just six starts, owning a 7.33 ERA, and is on the injured list with a strained hamstring. Germán will not pitch for the Yanks again this season, and most of Luis Severino’s starts have been non-competitive; Boone said that Severino is in line to pitch against the Braves on Tuesday, but his recent efforts hardly inspire confidence.

Frankie Montas, who was acquired at the Trade Deadline last season, remains in a throwing program at the club’s complex in Tampa, Fla., and is unlikely to pitch in the Majors this season.

“It’s been tough,” Boone said. “When you start with Frankie, get that news that he’s probably going to miss [time], then having guys start and have a lot of incomplete seasons around injuries -- it makes it challenging, but that’s part of it. You’ve got to roll with it, and it creates opportunities for other guys.”