Nasty Nestor's latest gem puts him atop AL leaderboard

May 15th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Prior to Sunday’s game, neither Nestor Cortes or Michael Kopech ranked among the official league leaders in ERA -- despite Cortes coming in at 1.41 and Kopech sitting at 0.93. But since they hadn’t pitched more innings than team games played, they did not qualify for MLB leaderboards.

They both, however, reached the eligibility requirements on Sunday in the classic mustache vs. man-bun duel. The mustache was victorious as Cortes delivered another gem for the Yankees in their 5-1 win against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. 

“Even in the bullpen [before the game], I felt like my fastball and cutter were there,” Cortes said. “From the first pitch, I felt pretty good.”

Cortes followed up his 7 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball on Monday against the Rangers with another near-flawless performance --  going a career-high eight innings, allowing just three hits and one run with seven strikeouts.

For that stellar outing, the lefty repped his “Nasty Nestor Cortes” shirt around the clubhouse.

“That was another special outing,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Just in complete control, working quick and just really sharp. I told him that was good even for him.”

With another spectacular performance, Cortes has solidified himself as one of New York’s strongest arms in the rotation. It also gives him even more confidence heading into his next start.

“It’s been pretty good, going back to last year,” Cortes said of his confidence. “The chances I got, and the ability that I can go out there and pitch every five days, has been incredible for me. As long as I can go out there and compete and give my team a chance, I’m happy.”

Since Cortes made his 2021 season debut on May 30 last year, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over that time frame, the southpaw has pitched 133 innings with a 2.44 ERA. His ERA is the lowest in the AL and third-lowest in the Majors during that span.

“He’s been one of the best pitchers in the game, not only this year, but even going back to last year,” Boone said. “He’s been consistent with us, reliable and continues to get better and better.”

Cortes’ ability to pitch on both sides of the plate allowed the left-hander to succeed in 2021 and again in the early portions of '22, including on Sunday. After a first-inning single by Luis Robert, Cortes settled down and retired the next 15 batters.

His best inning came in the third when he almost threw his second immaculate inning of the season. He struck out the side on 10 pitches -- all strikes -- and each strikeout came via a different pitch, while also using both sides of the plate. He struck out Josh Harrison on an outside fastball and Tim Anderson on a low-inside cutter.

But “Nasty Nestor” was in full force when he fooled Reese McGuire on a slider. The White Sox catcher froze on Cortes’ 76.8 mph slider on the outside corner.

“He just made pitches the whole day,” White Sox outfielder AJ Pollock said. “I don’t think we did a good job of making him uncomfortable.”

Cortes once again leaned on his cutter the most (39% of his pitches), but his ability to mix between cutter/fastball to offspeed, while locating it all perfectly, helped the 27-year-old on the mound. His slider -- which he threw 20 times -- was well placed all afternoon, even when Adam Engel took it deep in the eighth inning on a pitch outside the zone.

“His cutter, fastball and slider were good,” Yankees catcher Jose Trevino said. “That’s the good thing about Nestor: He can locate all his pitches. He can do anything.”

Not only were Cortes' pitches intact, but his quick delivery was also on display -- something that he has adopted since high school from his dad.

“That’s what I am all about,” Cortes said. “I like to work at a quick pace to keep hitters off balance and uncomfortable in the box. I remember in high school, my dad would be like, ‘Why are you walking so much forward?’ He was sick of me getting tired in the sixth. So, [now] I throw the ball, stay on the mound, get it back and go.”

After his start on Sunday, Cortes’ ERA sits at 1.35 -- best in the AL and second-lowest in the Majors.

“It’s fun to be in this clubhouse,” the lefty said. “The start has been amazing, and hopefully, I can continue [it].”