After a bizarre start to the season where 2022 Yankees All-Star Nestor Cortes Jr. didn't appear to have enough steam to get through a lineup more than two times, the left-hander was predictably diagnosed with a shoulder strain and eventually placed on the 60-Day IL.
The news was tough to stomach, sure, but at the very least, there appeared to be a root cause for a fan favorite's sudden backslide. Cortes was eventually placed on the 60-Day IL, but returned on Saturday Aug. 5 against the Astros and looked, conservatively, 50 times fresher.
His fastball had significant zip; he recorded his fastest pitch of the season immediately. His stamina never waned; though he was on a pitch count, he threw 64 pitches through four efficient innings, whiffing eight batters.
And then he was never heard from again.
Cortes' next start against the Marlins was pushed back one day, then pushed off a cliff into Hell on Friday evening. Just five hours prior, an article was published in the Daily News about how excited the lefty was to revisit his South Florida roots in his weekend start. Instead, it turns out Cortes is suffering from a "more pronounced version" of his earlier rotator cuff strain, and will be shut down for three to four weeks.
Rotator Cuff Surgery could be killer for Yankees' Nestor Cortes Jr. Injury History
Show of hands, anyone believing that surgery isn't on the table for Cortes? That's one, two ... zero hands in the air, yup.
As devastating as Tommy John surgery can be, and as long as the recovery period is these days, at least the results of that surgery are fairly predictable. Rotator cuff surgery is an entirely different beast; shoulder issues are almost uniformly riskier than elbow problems.
Don't believe us? Believe the almost hilariously blunt MLB.com primer entitled, "A torn rotator cuff: You don't want this," published in 2007:
"There are three words that no pitcher or general manager ever wants to hear: Torn rotator cuff.- MLB.com, 2007
"It's frightening to hear those words," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said. "The first thing you ask is to what extent? Sometimes it can be tendinitis in the rotator cuff, sometimes it can be bursitis. It can be a lot of things before a rotator cuff tear. But when I hear rotator cuff tear, obviously you get really worried and you're concerned about a guy's future. It's definitely a very severe injury now as much as it was in the past."
Kansas City GM Dayton Moore is also among those who dread hearing a pitcher has a torn rotator cuff.
"The statistics show pitchers often don't return to their customary level," Moore said. "The success ratio of Tommy John [elbow ligament replacement surgery] is certainly much better, but with today's technology and the great work that so many physical therapists do and the intensity level that athletes have, they can get back."
They can get back, but in many cases they are never the same pitcher."
Society has advanced since 2007, but the procedure is still extremely risky. Cortes has now suffered two consecutive strains -- or didn't rest long enough for the first strain to heal -- and is now battling a more pronounced version of the same issue.
There is no reason for him to return to a lost 2023 campaign. Unfortunately, Yankees fans must now worry about something far more potent than a typical no-throw. If surgery climbs up on that dreaded table, the Yankees will be in for a world of uncertainty surrounding one of their rare success stories.