On Wednesday night, it appeared the Yankees would be cruising to their sixth straight victory. Nestor Cortes Jr. held a 5-1 lead heading into the seventh inning and had thrown just 77 pitches. One more frame and the bullpen could take over and likely shut the door.
But the Orioles hung eight runs on New York and took a 9-5 lead. They would eventually win 9-6. Cortes, facing the heart of Baltimore's order, walked Anthony Santander, gave up a single to Austin Hays, and then served up a home run to Adam Frazier without recording an out. He was removed from the game and the bullpen allowed five more runs.
Anyone who looked at Nestor's stats the third time through the order came up with the easy response: "Aaron Boone shouldn't have let him pitch the seventh!" or "Aaron Boone should've removed him at the first sign of trouble!"
There are two problems with that way of thinking, though. Fans are typically more frustrated when Boone goes for the early hook once a baserunner or two reach. And why would he take out Cortes against a soft-swinging lefty in Frazier? He had the matchup!
Additionally, it's up to Cortes to get beyond his struggles in the sixth and seventh inning. Boone can't be managing games from this point forward under the assumption that Cortes needs to be yanked when the opposition is coming up for their third at-bats.
Yankees' Nestor Cortes needs to get over his late-game struggles
Wednesday night was the perfect opportunity to challenge Cortes and help him start putting all of this in the rearview. He had a 5-1 lead. His pitch count was low. He already had gotten through the first three batters of the Orioles' order the inning prior.
A complete unravel in the form of surrendering three runs on 12 pitches was unforeseen and out of Boone's control. Cortes is supposed to be one of the team's most reliable starters, especially with the current situation surrounding the pitching staff. He's not supposed to be a liability who's babied whenever obstacles start to show themselves. That managerial behavior is reserved for Clarke Schmidt and Jhony Brito.
Cortes was an All-Star last season. His 42 total starts (231.2 innings) from 2021-2022 were among the best in the game (sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP). The problem could be his increased fastball usage from 2022 to 2023 and the deemphasis of his sweeper perhaps. His sinker and changeup are getting absolutely crushed. He's already through 33% of his starts this year, so the time is now to figure it out.
Boone can only do so much in these situations. When it's obvious the implosion is coming and Boone lets it happen, then we can collectively blame the manager. But when Cortes is cruising and gives the other team new life in the blink of an eye, that's on him.
Some blame has to be placed on the players ... like when DJ LeMahieu decides to go rogue and bunt. Boone's employed to entrust and empower his players, not micromanage and lack faith.