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Nestor Cortes’ skills continue to impress the Yankees

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Yankees’ offense deservedly grabbed much of the spotlight during the seven-game winning streak that brought them into Saturday’s game against the Royals, but they didn’t do it alone.

While the lineup and offensive approach underwent a dramatic overhaul during the offseason, the Yankees haven’t significantly expanded their pitching team — either in staff or in coaching.

Where they upgraded in that aspect of the game was behind the plate, where Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka formed a solid tandem after Gary Sanchez was dropped to Minnesota.

And much like a year ago, the results have been good — with some unlikely outliers.

Most prominent in the early days was Gerrit Cole, who started against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday and put up a promising game against Cleveland, pitching scoreless innings at 6²/₃, striking nine and allaying some worries after an ugly first three season starts.

He lowered his ERA from 6.35 to 4.00, still the highest among the Yankees’ five starters.

Nestor Cortes
Nestor Cortes has the third-best ERA in the American League at 1.31.
USA TODAY sports

This is where the other outlier comes into play.

After another impressive start, Nestor Cortes continues to prove last year’s rise was no fluke.

Though the left-hander didn’t have particularly good stuff, he limited the Royals to one unearned run in five innings. The performance actually caused Cortes’ ERA to rise to 1.31, which is still the third-best in the American League.

When asked what he liked most about Cortes’ pitching, Cole said, “The creativity is probably my favorite part of his game. He has a really good understanding of what his stuff is doing and what a hitter sees. He has a unique talent where he can take and execute pitches at a high level [use] different rhythms and different deliveries. When he really gets into that groove of fusing all of those elements together, it’s extremely unique. It’s fun to watch.”

Manager Aaron Boone went in a different direction when describing what sets Cortes apart.

“He’s competitive,” Boone said. “I love the way he competes. You can tell he really enjoys playing the game. There’s a fearlessness in the way he plays the game [and] a delight in the way he plays the game. He wants the ball.”

Boone also noted that Cortes has more than once volunteered to take the field when the Yankees have run out of position players late in a game.

Nestor Cortes
Nestor Cortes is second in the American League with 12.19 strikeouts per nine innings.
AP

That aspect was shown when he dove headfirst to beat the Guardians’ Steven Kwan for the first time on a grounder against first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

He’s also second in the AL with 12.19 strikeouts per nine innings, trailing only the Rays’ Shane McClanahan.

Cortes leads a staff that has an AL-best 2.84 ERA and a rotation that kicked in on Saturday with a combined 2.88 ERA, just behind the Twins (2.84) in the AL.

The rotation — as well as the entire staff — will face a tougher test once they leave Kansas City after this weekend and face the Blue Jays’ strong lineup.

The Yankees shared a four-game series with Toronto in the Bronx earlier this month, and the staff held up well, allowing just nine runs over the four games — with two shutouts.

Since then, the Yankees have not faced a team with a winning record, and the Blue Jays sit near the top of the AL East all season.

https://nypost.com/2022/04/30/nestor-cortes-skillset-continues-to-impress-yankees/ Nestor Cortes’ skills continue to impress the Yankees

JOE HERNANDEZ

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