DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Blue Jays refused to take things easy on Nestor Cortes in his spring debut Saturday.
Southpaw Yankees, sidelined until now by a hamstring injury, faced a similar lineup to the opening day in Toronto in his return to the mound. That combination led to Cortes allowing five earned runs, including homers to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Whit Merrifield, over 3.1 innings of work. Cortes also walked three and struck out four.
“It’s not a bad start,” Cortes said after the game, nodding to his nickname. But considering the hamstring injury and groin problem that led to an early playoff exit last October, Cortes was pleased with his order and thought his stuff was better than expected in his first game action since 2023.
His manager agreed.
“I thought it was good. I liked the life on his fastball,” Aaron Boone said. “I have some swing and I miss it. I made a few mistakes, probably cutting, sliding.”
Boone would have preferred Cortes not face a talented Jays order right out of the gate, but the skipper acknowledged the need to get the starter out with spring training weeks away.
“It doesn’t matter,” Cortes added when asked about Toronto’s lineup. “Right now, with my first outing, as long as I get out there healthy and feeling good about myself, [that’s] the most important thing to me.”
Cortes threw 52 total pitches, three short of the target, so he threw a few more in the box after he got out. The plan is for him to make two more spring training starts. Cortes will aim for 60-65 pitches in his next outing and then 75-80 in his final exhibition start. His goal is to be in the 85-90 range when he makes his first start of the regular season.
Boone said that with the way the Yankees have planned things, Cortes could end up starting the fourth game of the season. Initially, it was thought that Cortes’ hamstring injury would force him into the fifth rotation slot to start the season.
On Saturday, Cortes limited the tricks that have endeared him to fans and infuriated hitters in recent years. That had nothing to do with Major League Baseball’s new rules like the pitch clock, though. The 2022 Cy Young contender confirmed that he can still do the “weird things” he likes to do — like the hesitation moves and odd drops — and plans to tap into his bag of tricks next time around.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Cortes said of the pitch clock. “As soon as I start winding down, the clock should stop and I should be able to do what I want to do.”