After first win in 11 months, Cortes says winter commute from Miami to Tampa triggered turnaround

NEW YORK (AP) — Nestor Cortes was discouraged.

An All-Star in 2022, the New York Yankees left-hander made just one major league start during the final four months of last season because of a shoulder injury, and he was frustrated by offseason workouts with friends near his Miami area home.

“I didn't feel like I was getting any better,” he said. “I was a little fearful to be honest.”

Cortes started commuting each week to the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Florida. With the help of staff and the team's high-tech pitching equipment, Cortes got back on track and pitched two-hit ball over eight innings in a 7-0 victory over Miami on Monday night for his first win since May 30.

“That was awesome. I'll say now we needed it,” glowed Yankees manager Aaron Boone, concerned with his overtaxed bullpen.

Cortes threw 70 of 102 pitches for strikes. He used 42 fastballs, though his 91.6 mph velocity was down 1.7 mph from his first two starts. He mixed in 31 cutters, 15 sweepers, 11 changeups, two sinkers and a slider.

He allowed a pair of singles to Bryan De La Cruz, struck out six and walked none. Cortes hadn't won in the major leagues since beating Seattle last year to boost his record to 5-2.

Cortes couldn't even play catch a few days later in Los Angeles, and he was put on the injured list with a strained rotator cuff. He made a pair of Double-A rehab starts in late July, returned to the Yankees and lasted four innings against Houston on Aug. 5 in what turned out to be his season finale.

“Any time guys get hurt, there's always a self-doubt that creeps in about whether they can really get back to the level they've shown,” Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake said.

Cortes had gone 12-4 in 2022 and compiled a 24-11 record heading into this year. Looking back, Cortes' shoulder injury probably was caused by a strained right hamstring sustained early in spring training.

“You just have some compensatory things that lead to more stress in other places," Blake said.

When Cortes started offseason workouts last fall at a local ballpark, the shoulder still wasn't right.

“I didn’t know if I was able to go over that hump,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t get loose.”

Blake and Yankees senior director of pitching Sam Briend designed a more structured program alternating high- and low-stress days. Blake called it “a true high-low throwing program” that monitored volume and intensity of throwing with “GPS units and some different tools that we have that that are a little bit more proprietary.”

Cortes, who turned 29 in December, drove to Tampa some weeks and took flights on others.

“I would go every Monday or every Sunday night and I would be there the whole week and I would go back home for the weekend,” Cortes said. “I went home for the holidays and then Jan. 2 I was back, coming up every week, going back home every weekend.”

Boone remained confident Cortes would recover.

“The biggest thing for Nestor is just I think really selling out and committing to the things he had to do to get himself ready. And it started at the back half of last year when he was rehabbing,” Boone said. “He’s done a really good job with just his daily commitment to doing everything to be healthy and to build properly.”

Cortes credited head athletic trainer Tim Lentych, assistant strength and conditioning coach Larry Adegoke and assistant pitching coach Desi Druschel for the turnaround. He is 1-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts, striking out 13 and walking four.

“I appreciate those guys for being in there in Tampa every day working with me and helping me out,” Cortes said, “and it's showing right now that I'm healthy and I can pitch.”