Nestor Cortes yankees
Dan Hamilton | USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have announced that crafty lefty and fan favorite Nestor Cortes will start on Opening Day in Houston on March 28. Cortes takes the place of staff ace and reigning Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole, who’s currently shut down with elbow soreness. He will thankfully not need Tommy John surgery.

YES Network analyst Meredith Marakovits was first with the report.

Fans embraced Cortes and his crazy windups and deliveries on the mound in 2021, and that carried over to 2022 when he joined the rotation for good. Cortes pitched to a 2.44 ERA that year and was an All-Star. He shockingly regressed last season and had a 4.97 ERA, making just 12 starts as he battled shoulder trouble. Cortes said at the time that he was having trouble recovering between starts.

And though Nestor Cortes is healthy and has looked generally better on the mound, the results aren’t here. He has an inflated 8.10 ERA and has allowed 17 hits in just 10 innings of work. However, that can be mostly traced back to a bad start against the Twins on March 9, when he gave up six runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings.

Even so, the decision to start Cortes against the strong Houston Astros is puzzling. The Yankees’ longtime nemesis knows how to hit timely home runs and offense always seems to be at a premium at Minute Maid Park. Cortes, meanwhile, doesn’t have great numbers in Houston; 1-1 with a 6.86 ERA in seven games (four starts).

Lucky for the Yankees, the Houston Astros aren’t as dominant a force anymore. Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander is starting the season on the injured list. The lineup is a year older, even with the dangerous Yordan Alvarez. It’s like I’ve been saying, Houston’s time at the top is slowly ending.

Nestor Cortes may want to use that as he prepares for another career milestone in pinstripes.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.