When the New York Yankees reacquired Nestor Cortes Jr. following his moribund 2020 season in Seattle, jokes flowed freely from all corners of Yankee Twitter. After all, Cortes Jr. was an interesting swingman who slung the ball unlike any other option in 2019, but when he succeeded, it felt more accidental than premeditated.
Mixing a few dominant stints with several subpar “innings-eating” outings where he was left out to dry, Cortes Jr. seemed destined to always be an hilarious Yankees footnote, a sidearmer to recall fondly without any statistical backing.
After all, he finished his “Yankee career,” for all intents and purposes, with a 5.67 ERA before following it up with a small sample size 15.26 mark in Seattle during the shortened 2020.
Somehow, some way, it’s now completely safe to say the 25-year-old version of Cortes Jr. who walked through the Yankees’ doors prior to the 2021 season and met with Matt Blake had a nearly-imperceptible high ceiling that he now seems to have reached (and reached repeatedly).
The Yankees’ own account is now doing meme work we would’ve all found sarcastic 12 months ago, but now have enough runway to accept as tacit fact. Nestor Cortes Jr. really does have the “It” Factor. He really will be valuable to this Yankees team in whatever role he plays.
And, some nights, that role is “stopper/ace”.
2022 Yankees’ version of Nestor Cortes Jr. is really…kind of…an actual ace.
The only thing Cortes Jr. does not provide — and may never — is the ability to go deep into ball games. Despite a typically efficient pitch count, it’s a rarity for Nasty Nestor to be pushed beyond 80-90 in a given game, and even after a year’s worth of data, Aaron Boone still tends to pull him after the first hard-hit ball he allows midway through the fifth or sixth.
If it’s pitcher wins you’re looking for, Cortes Jr. isn’t your kind of ace. But if it’s magical reliability, as well as the innate ability to breathe deeply and shove in the wake of a loss, Cortes Jr. has continued to be an ace in the five hole, and dominated the Toronto Blue Jays’ vaunted order on Tuesday night like he was flicking through a catalogue.
Cortes Jr.’s deception and Kyle Higashioka’s pitch framing may very well be the elite duo New York fans have long been waiting for.
On top of everything remarkable about the Mustached One’s comeback and elevation, it can’t be omitted that he’s simply a joy to watch.
In a game that’s become somewhat stale, from shifts to swings and misses, fans truly never know what Nestor Cortes Jr. is going to provide them on any given day — though they know it’ll likely be effective.
That’s what caused them to sarcastically fall in love with him during his Blue Period in 2019, only for the fawning to become far less hilarious in 2021 and 2022 (thus far), when he’s put it all together time and again.
And Cortes Jr. has more than most to “put together” on any given day, doubling up the pitch types and angles of a standard back-end starter. One start in 2022 does not an entire season make, but the Cortes Jr. on display Tuesday night was not “hilarious” or “Bronxie’s Dad”. Rather, he was a legitimate stopper at the back end of a sterling rotation, and remains the least of the Yankees’ problems.