Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The young 2024 season has been a mixed bag for New York Yankees lefty Nestor Cortes.

The Hialeah Kid has a respectable 3.50 ERA through six starts along with a 3.67 FIP. This means he’s pitching about as expected and isn’t neither over nor underachieving. Cortes’ WHIP is also a clean 1.00 while the strikeouts far outnumber the walks.

Not bad for someone who struggled through shoulder trouble all of last season, let alone was thrust into the No. 1 starter’s role after Gerrit Cole went down with a bum elbow.

Except looking at Cortes’ starts, it’s clear either he or Luis Gil is bullpen-bound once Cole returns. Cortes’ control suggests he’s in the lead, but he’s also been prone to the home run all year. He’s surrendered five in just 36 innings, including two in the Yankees’ 3-1 loss to lowly Oakland on Thursday.

In 2022, Cortes’ breakout season, he allowed just 16 in 158 innings.

The solution could come down to simple pitch selection and usage. Nestor Cortes bread and butter are his fastball and cutter which he complements with the sweeping curve. The usage of these three broke down as follows in 2022 per StatCast:

  • Fastball- 43.6%
  • Cutter- 29.8%
  • Sweeper- 18.6%

By comparison, here is Cortes’ pitch breakdown for 2024:

  • Fastball- 46.9%
  • Cutter- 31.3%
  • Sweeper- 13.7%

All remaining points go towards miscellaneous pitches, but now we see the problem in front of us. Nestor Cortes is getting too trigger-happy with his fastball. Very risky considering he lacks natural velocity and relies primarily on spin rate. In fact, his fastball this year has better spin at 2286 rpm compared to 2022’s mark of 2270. Cortes’ velocity also hasn’t dropped significantly.

Lucky for Nestor Cortes, his job in the rotation is officially his to lose. Luis Gil has plenty of upside as a starter and looked great with 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Rays on Sunday. He has 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), but also leads the American League with 17 walks in 19.2 innings. That screams two-pitch pitcher trying hard to develop that third pitch, which Gil is currently doing with his changeup.

As for Cortes, it’s just a simple adjustment that Matt Blake can fix along with catchers Austin Wells and Jose Trevino. Just because the fastball is working particularly well one night doesn’t mean it’s enough for Cortes to be aggressive with it. The catchers need to realize that and call the game accordingly.

And speaking of the catchers, how does Nestor Cortes do with each? Well, this season, he’s had Trevino behind the plate for five of six starts and pitched to a 4.30 ERA.

In his one start pitching to Wells, he tossed seven scoreless innings against the Rays. The bullpen couldn’t hold it and New York lost 2-0, but everyone saw it. Vintage Nasty Nestor was on the mound.

That’s a small sample size and too small to pass any judgment, but still very telling. Austin Wells’ bat hasn’t arrived yet this year but he’s still the future franchise catcher. Righty-lefty platoon with Trevino aside, he needs more opportunities calling games.

There is really no other fix. Nestor Cortes can consistently stay in All-Star form if he just throws a few less fastballs and a few more sweepers. Nothing more, nothing less, no earth-shattering adjustments.

Otherwise, he and Luke Weaver can be multi-inning anchors in the Yankee bullpen.

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.