Struggling Yankees Starter Listed as a ‘Pitcher Most Likely to Rebound’

Nestor Cortes

Getty Nestor Cortes

It’s not unusual for top pitchers to turn it around after a bad start to the MLB season. Starter Blake Snell’s ERA climbed as high as 4.60 during the first few months of 2023, but by the end of the season, he led MLB with a 2.25 ERA and was one of the most in-demand free agents. The baseball season is long and an awful lot can happen.

This season, New York Yankees‘ starter Nestor Cortes desperately needs a comeback story similar to that of Snell last year, and according to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, a turnaround could well be on the table. On May 17, Sarris listed Cortes as one of five pitchers “most likely to rebound” after struggling through the first six weeks of 2024, though recognized that the 29-year-old has a lot working against him.

“Nestor Cortes is always going to have to deal with pitching at home in the fourth-easiest park in baseball for home run hitters,” Sarris wrote. “Of course, he’s given up more homers on the road than at home this year.”

“For Cortes, there’s always the fact that his cutter is his best pitch, he doesn’t have a ton of top-end stuff — his fastball has poor velocity — and he’s always going to face tough offenses in his division,” Sarris continued. “But there is a little bit of good news within his arsenal. The Stuff+ on his fastball has been inching upward because he’s been adding vertical movement.”

Cortes’ Command Struggles Continue: ‘It’s Tough to Pitch In This League Without a Fastball’

After 9 starts this season, Cortes is 1-4 with a 4.02 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 51 strikeouts in 53.2 innings, though his home starts have been substantially stronger than those on the road. In 4 starts at Yankee Stadium, Cortes has gone 1-1 with a 1.59 ERA, but in five away starts, he’s sitting at 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA. Overall this season, he’s allowed 47 hits and 24 earned runs, including 7 home runs, putting opponents at a batting average of .229.

As Sarris noted, Cortes’ need to rely on a cutter is working against him — a fact that Cortes himself commented on after the Yankees’ loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 11.

“It’s tough to pitch in this league without a fastball, that’s for sure,” Cortes told’s Bryan Hoch after the game. “It felt like every time I’d try to throw a fastball in the zone, it was getting hit. I wasn’t able to establish it early, and that’s why when I would go back to it again, it was getting hit hard.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone also commented on the left-hander’s struggle to command his fastball.

“Early on, it just seemed like he had a hard time getting that fastball at the top rail [of the strike zone] like he normally does so well,” Boone told Hoch. “There were a lot of pitches that he shot up there that were getting away from him.”

Fortunately, Cortes’ command seems to be slowly improving, as Sarris noted with the addition of some vertical movement. After his start on May 11, Cortes commented to Hoch that he felt his delivery got stronger through his outing, an encouraging sign for the starter trying to get back on track.

“I felt like I was missing up and away a lot,” Cortes said. “I think it’s a little bit with my mechanics, with my delivery. I was able to fix that after the third inning. I was able to dial in more, and I felt like I had more on my fastball.”

Yankees’ Starting Rotation Ranks 3rd in MLB

Despite Cortes’ struggles on the mound, the Yankees’ starting rotation has a combined ERA of 3.12 and ranks 3rd in MLB, only behind the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. The team’s fierce performance is made even more impressive by the fact that they’re doing it without ace Gerrit Cole, who is still on the IL with elbow inflammation and edema.

After 9 starts, Clarke Schmidt is staring down the best season of his career, and Luis Gil isn’t far behind him. As of May 17, Schmidt is 5-1 with a 2.49 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 55 strikeouts in 50.2 innings, and Gil is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 48 strikeouts in 43.0 innings. Rounding out the rotation, veteran Carlos Rodón is 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts in 49.0 innings, and recently-acquired Marcus Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.

There’s no denying the Yankees have put together an extremely fierce rotation, and while Cortes is having the weakest season among the five starters, the bar has been set extremely high. Fortunately for Cortes, his next starts face some of MLB’s weaker offensive lineups in the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners, so a chance for the lefty to put some wins on the board may be just around the corner.

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