Nestor Cortes’ new editor behind the Renaissance with Yankees

When it comes to the cutter, Yankees fans immediately think of Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte also threw a dirty one from the left.

But none of the Yankees icons have had the honor of teaching Nestor Cortes the pitch, which has become his greatest weapon. It was fellow Cuban Odrisamer Despaigne, who played for five top division clubs from 2014 to 2019, who taught Cortes how to throw a cutter.

The two played in the Dominican Winter League in the off-season following Cortes Catch’s difficult 2018 season. He made his major league debut that season with the Orioles, who made him a Rule 5 pick in 2017, but finished the year after four games in the majors in the Yankees’ minor league system.

“He basically said to me, ‘Hey, hold it like this, move, and then basically let it rip,'” Cortes said before the Yankees hosted the Guardians on Friday night. “And I did.”

He noticed the movement, but didn’t realize he’d stumbled upon a potential game-changer. He kept the pitch in his back pocket, he said, until 2020, when he threw a few. He refined it even further last season when Statcast states he threw the court about a quarter of the time.

Nestor Cortes pitches
Nestor Cortes plays during the Yankees’ April 17 loss to the Orioles.

As he began revealing the streamlined cutter, his speed increased as well. He worked with coach Eric Cressey and pitching coach Matt Blake, among others, last season and parts of this offseason to shore up his performance. Cortes said he was “not good with my hip-shoulder separation.”

From 2020 through his stellar 2021 season, which ended with a 2.90 ERA, his four-seam fastball skyrocketed from an average of 88.2 mph to 90.7 mph. He said he felt the increase in speed throughout his repertoire allowed his editor to step into an elite offering.

His cutter is up to an average of 85.4 mph but can tick into the upper 80s and often ticks right off the bats’ bats. Of his 12 strikeouts on Sunday against the Orioles, eight were interrupted by his editor.

Going 9 ¹/₃ innings in two starts, Cortes’ ERA sits at a decent 0.00.

“I think the Velo spike really helped me,” said Cortes, who will carry his streak of scoreless innings into Saturday’s matchup against the Guardians. “I think I’m better at it and have better moves for it.”

Behind the mustache and funk is a legitimate major league pitcher — who may well become a star. He stands out because he thrives with less heat when many pitchers are throwing more than 10mph faster than him.

Cortes consistently plays with the timing and changes his delivery to leave players in the dark. But he also boasts tremendous movement in an arsenal suddenly led by the cutter. On at-bats ending with the cutter, opposing hitters are 2-for-15 (.133) with nine strikeouts.

He doesn’t mind if fans think he’s a novelty or a starter of legitimate stuff.

“It’s fun being the anomaly,” said the left. “It’s fun to be out there and [hitters will] be like, “man, how does this guy blow it past me at 90 miles an hour?”

“If [fans] I wanna say I’m funky, I’m funky If they want to say I’m a good pitcher, then I’m a good pitcher. I like them both.” Nestor Cortes’ new editor behind the Renaissance with Yankees


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