Nestor Cortes was one of the greatest feel-good stories from last season, as the New York Yankees starter went from a seldom-used, underperforming lefty bullpen specialist to an All-Star who was one of the few consistent arms behind the mighty Gerrit Cole in the team's much-maligned rotation.
While Yankees fans were fawning over the soft-tossing southpaw and his unusual pitching windups last season, 2023 has been a very bumpy ride for him so far. He looks nothing like the ace from last season and appears to look like the journeyman reliever of yesteryear.
This continued to get worse against the Tampa Bay Rays. While there is no shame in losing to the best team and offense in the league, Cortes' afternoon started off quite ugly. After giving up four hits in the first two innings, he ruined his start in the fifth inning by surrendering a grand slam to Yandy Diaz.
Cortes' era has more than doubled this season, going from a sparkling 2.44 mark to a garish 5.53 this season. Cortes has already given up five or more runs twice this season, a dubious feat he only managed to pull off once in 42 starts between the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Between his fastball velocity sitting comfortably in the very low 90s at prime mashing altitude and the fly ball issues that have helped him surrender seven home runs already, Cortes' lack of location and stamina when doing deeper into ballgames has to have shaken the team's confidence.
Nestor Cortes' slow start is killing the New York Yankees.
A converted reliever with only one complete game to his name in the major leagues, Cortes' inability to go deep into games is what is killing the Yankees. On a team with a constantly changing bullpen hierarchy, this is not an ideal situation.
In the first four innings, Cortes has a sub-2.00 ERA. He looks like his old self. Once the fifth inning comes around, he puts up a ghoulish 16.55 ERA that would make even the worst MLB pitcher turn their head away in shame. Pitching four innings every fifth start is not a tenable situation for player and club alike.
The Yankees' rotation troubles will not cease until Carlos Rodon comes back and hopefully gives them a Warren Spahn/Johnny Sain/pray-for-rain duo that can overwhelm opposing hitters. Until then, Cortes will get the ball every fifth day. It's on him to figure out whatever is causing this hideous start.