The highlight of left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr.'s follow-up season to his All-Star campaign was only separated from his year's nadir by less than a week.
Hampered by something nebulous during his first 11 starts of the year and cursed with a sudden inability to fight through a lineup multiple times, Cortes Jr. finally hit the injured list with a rotator cuff strain after a five-inning step forward in Seattle on May 30. A two-month layoff, peppered by a few July rehab appearances, ensued.
When Nasty Nestor returned at home against the Astros in August, he finally resembled the man with the mysterious fastball, who could ride his heater up and in and induce swings and misses despite barely cracking 94 MPH. Cortes Jr. allowed a single hit (a homer) in four innings against Houston, striking out eight and recovering his lost zip.
As the 2023 Yankees were wont to do, that's precisely when things reached their lowest point. Cortes Jr. hit the IL prior to his next start with a very similar rotator cuff strain. Did he rush back? Was his shoulder in that much trouble? Would the Yankees get the 2022 version of Cortes Jr. back at any point without surgical intervention? Were hopes about to be dashed for 2024 before it had even begun?
The affable left-hander has been mostly silent since, but resurfaced with a morsel of good news on Wednesday. Cortes Jr. posted a video of a full-speed throwing session with a weighted back wrap, which would seem to indicate that surgery is not currently on the table. It'll be a long offseason before No. 65 sees the light of Opening Day, but at least it's underway.
Yankees lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. working way back from rotator cuff strain (video)
No matter what Cortes Jr. had planned for an encore, it would've been tough to match the original, a season where he wound up mic'd up on the mound talking to his catcher, underdog Jose Trevino, during the 2022 All-Star Game.
Unfortunately, anything Cortes Jr. had up his sleeve was spiked before he was able to get rolling -- and even his 2022 season ended with a groin issue in the ALCS that forced him off the mound at a depressing low point in Game 4 against Houston.
Our worst fears when he disappeared into a shrouded clubhouse last summer weren't that he'd miss the rest of the 2023 season; honestly, we were envious. The bigger issue was his availability for 2024 and the potential for a career-altering surgery and tough recovery to a sensitive area. Cortes Jr. won't be out of the woods until the season begins in earnest, but it's a massive relief to see a sneak peek of him residing on the right track.