Yankees' No. 5 starter Nestor Cortes Jr. was immaculate on Sunday

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Yankees Nestor Cortes Jr. throwing road uniform Camden Yards
Yankees Nestor Cortes Jr. throwing road uniform Camden Yards

There wasn’t a lot Yankees fans could be happy about after the team’s 5-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, but Nestor Cortes, Jr.’s gem was definitely one of them.

The 27-year-old is becoming a fan favorite for the Yanks and it’s not just his fun-loving attitude or the ‘stache, it's been his nasty pitching that has made the left-hander more than just the team's No. 5 starter.

“Nestor was great,” manager Aaron Boone said after the game. “I actually thought early on he wasn’t totally sharp, but he was making big pitches. In about the third, fourth, fifth inning is where he was really special, dialing in his command. Stuff was good, but another really strong outing for Nestor.”

Cortes pitched five-plus innings, giving up just three hits and striking out a career-high 12 batters. All of this happened during a cold, blustery day in Baltimore, which the pitcher admitted gave him trouble when looking for his grip. But once the day started warming up and the wind calmed down, he had his cutter locked in and the Orioles didn’t stand a chance.

“I want to say by the third inning I was on a roll, commanding every pitch for strikes and putting hitters away early,” Cortes said after the game. “I was able to command [the cutter] on both sides of the plate. Hitters are expecting inside cutters on me and I was able to manage that outer rail with the cutter, backdooring it a little bit.”

On Sunday, Cortes wasn’t just terrific, he was immaculate. The left-hander pitched the ninth “immaculate inning” in Yankees history in the fourth inning.

“It’s fun to be out there and when you’re on a roll like that it makes it just a little bit sweeter,” Cortes said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out with the W today, but it is what it is.”

Unfortunate indeed. Despite shutting out the Orioles for five innings, the bullpen gave up five runs in the eighth, which was the difference in the game. A big reason for that was the Yankees’ lack of offense.

The Yankees were shut out by Baltimore’s pitchers, and could only muster four hits. In the three-game series, New York scored just six runs, with five coming in Saturday’s win.

“You always want to see your guys get rewarded when they perform really well,” Boone said of Cortes not coming away with the win. “But he will, but the biggest thing is for him another really strong performance.”

“As a pitcher yeah it’s kinda frustrating. but at the same time I could easily be on the other side of the baseball. Give up five, give up six [runs] and our offense be there that day,” Cortes said of the lack of run support “These hitters come out everyday and try to get as many hits as possible just today wasn’t the day.”

Run support or no run support, Cortes has been a steady arm in the Yankees rotation for the past two seasons. So far this year, Nestor has yet to give up a run in more than nine innings pitched while striking out 17.

Last season, after seven relief appearances, Cortes started the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets on July 4 and never looked back, posting a 2.90 ERA and striking out 75 batters.

The Yankees went 10-4 in his starts and the lefty looks to continue his trajectory to being not just a No. 5 starter, but the reliable and often dominant pitcher that the Yanks will need him to be if they hope to capture an AL East crown. But the offense will need to catch up.