Nestor Cortes Jr. toed the rubber for the New York Yankees on Monday afternoon against the Texas Rangers, and threw a shutout. The only surprising thing about that is just how long the shutout lasted and how few hits were involved.
How much has changed for the Yankees in the past year that what transpired in the finale against Texas now feels predictable and nearly commonplace?
Cortes Jr. was extended to his limits, then slightly past them, by Aaron Boone, who maneuvered the crafty left-hander through 7.1 innings before he surrendered his first hit. It was a career high.
Typically, “crafty” refers to a lefty who doesn’t throw very hard, sticks around forever, and doesn’t impress his peers, but rather leaves them scratching at the air and confused. Cortes Jr.? He wears the descriptor like a badge of pride, but he prefers “funky” if given the choice.
Cortes Jr.’s stuff isn’t overwhelming, but it plays up — and isn’t a fluke. Or, if it is, it’s worked since the start of the 2021 season; Jeff Quagliata, YES Network research manager, found the left-hander has the AL’s best ERA over that remarkable length of time (with a minimum of 120 innings pitched).
Don’t believe the research department, or unimpeachable statistics? Maybe you’d prefer to hear from Andrew McCutchen on what’s really going on when Nasty Nestor rocks back and fires.
Yankees’ Nestor Cortes Jr. receives high praise, compared to Steve Carlton.
See? It’s not a mirage. There’s a reason he’s able to steal early strikes with cutters and sliders at the bottom of the zone, then elevate like a power pitcher. Cortes Jr. has plenty of arrows in his Trick Quiver, but at the end of the day, the traditional high, hard one also works because he’s set it up perfectly.
Even in today’s game, there’s nothing wrong with “97.”
But don’t take it from Cutch. Aaron Boone took things to the next level in his postgame summation Monday, calling Cortes’ killer cutter downright Carltonian.
Carlton’s slider, of course, might be a consensus top-10 pitch in the game’s history.
Perhaps Boone was exaggerating for effect, but it’s clear that, along with the requisite funkiness and shifting arm angles, Cortes Jr. has managed to level up his stuff during a year-plus working the pitching guru Matt Blake, and no sticky stuff has been required to make this makeover a reality.
Or maybe the Carlton comparison wasn’t all that far-fetched? Who’s the Yankees’ equivalent of Carlton? Ron Guidry? Whitey Ford? Roger Clemens? Traditionally, this has been an offense-based franchise, but they’ve still possessed plenty of star power on the mound.
According to stats guru Katie Sharp, none of those names — or anyone else who’s worn the pinstripes — has ever matched the stretch Cortes Jr.’s in the midst of at the moment.
“Hall of Famer”? That’s ridiculous — except coming from Aaron Boone’s mouth.
All-Star? Now you’re talking. Hell, we’re almost a third of the way there.
No-hitter? No way. Except it nearly just happened.
Shutout? Sure. Already seen it. Might see it next start, too.
It sounds wild to say the sky’s the limit on Cortes Jr.’s future, considering he’s wading among giants in the pitching game who possess 99 MPH and wipeout universe-bending breakers. Yet, somehow, he’s tops in the American League in a nearly 200-game span. Feels useless to keep doubting and waiting for the dam to break. Take it from Cutch.