Could 2024 see return of 'Nasty Nestor'?

February 16th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- After a season marked by concern and uncertainty, says that a strong winter has served to restore both his health and swagger. The Yankees' left-hander is ready to be “Nasty Nestor” again.

“As long as I’m healthy, I think I’ll be fine,” Cortes said. “Once I’m healthy, once I feel everything is right, I can be as good as anybody. That’s kind of my mentality.”

Cortes wasn’t able to get to that point in 2023, missing the World Baseball Classic due to a hamstring strain, then enduring a pair of subsequent IL stints because of recurring rotator cuff strains.

When Cortes was unable to pitch after an Aug. 5 start against the Astros, ending his season with a 5-2 record and 4.97 ERA in 12 starts, he feared surgery could be necessary. Multiple opinions reinforced Cortes’ confidence that rehab would permit him to return to the form he showed as an American League All-Star in 2022.

The 29-year-old said that he tossed two bullpen sessions in October, then resumed his throwing program on Dec. 3, eventually relocating his workouts from Miami to the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, where he said that the club’s medical staff helped him “get over the hump” with a regimen of shoulder stretching and strength training.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting any progress after about 10 or 15 days [in Miami],” Cortes said. “These guys know my arm here; they know how it moves, how it works. … I trusted the process, worked my tail off with the shoulder, trying to get as strong as possible. I’ve felt good ever since.”

Cortes said that he anticipates the Yankees will space out his starts this spring, allowing some extra rest. He and right-hander Marcus Stroman have been told that they are in line to pitch during the Yanks’ exhibition series in Mexico City, though Cortes said that he wants to see how his body is responding before committing to that assignment.

With two live batting practice sessions under his belt this spring, Cortes anticipates being ready to toss about 90 pitches by Opening Day -- especially after being clocked between 90-93 mph at the club’s Minor League complex earlier this week.

“He’s done a good job of being on top of everything, and really on the same page with the trainers and strength and conditioning,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s been going back and forth between Tampa and Miami since December, and it served him well. It’s allowed him to progress as he’s needed to. What’s been encouraging is the recovery; that’s where he was having a lot of the hiccups last year.”

King of the Gil
provided an all-too-brief glimpse of his potential for the Yankees in 2021, posting a 3.07 ERA across six starts.

With the right-hander now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees have been pleased to see that Gil still possesses an elite fastball, one that promises to again be on display this season in the Bronx.

“It took a while; coming back from an injury like this takes time,” Gil said through an interpreter. “One of the things that I wanted to do was focus on the rehabilitation, focus on the work. I really wanted to make it a point that I needed to do everything correctly and at the right pace, so that when I finally got back, I was back 100 percent.”

Gil returned for two Minor League rehab starts with Low-A Tampa last September. Boone and general manager Brian Cashman have spoken highly of Gil as a depth option behind their starting rotation. Gil said that he would consider pitching out of the bullpen if needed.

“My dream is to be a starter; that’s the honest answer there,” Gil said. “At the same time, if I’m in the bullpen and called upon to help this team, I’m going to do the best I can to help. At the end of the day, I enjoy pitching. So if that’s where they put me and I find myself in that position, helping this team, I’ll be more than happy.”

Return of the Klu-bot?
Corey Kluber, who pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in 2021, could soon return to the organization as a special advisor.

Cashman said that the club is in the early stages of discussions about a potential role for Kluber, 37, who announced his retirement on Feb. 9.

“We’ve had brief conversations,” Cashman said. “He had a real big impact on our clubhouse when he was here.”

A two-time AL Cy Young Award winner (2014 and '17), Kluber compiled a career record of 116-77 with a 3.44 ERA in 271 games (260 starts) with Cleveland, the Rangers, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox from 2011-23.