Nestor Cortes’ Rise to Stardom

Manager Aaron Boone shared with Daily News how he was not expecting Cortes to become a backbone for the Bronx Bombers, but it is just how it all worked out.


Nestor Cortes Jr. has been one of the most surprising pitchers, for not only the Yankees, but across all of MLB this season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Lauren Mondaruli, Contributing Writer

New York Yankees star pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. made the 2021 season worth watching. Cortes has racked up many memorable games during his third season in the Bronx. Cortes has been playing in the majors since 2018, but he is only getting his name out there now. 

Cortes was born in Cuba and moved to the United States at seven months old. He played baseball all throughout high school and in college for Florida International University. He was part of the 2013 MLB Draft, where he was the Yankees’ 36th overall pick. Cortes did not get to the dugout right away, playing for the Yankees’ rookie team in the Gulf. 

Cortes stayed with the Yankees until 2017 when the Baltimore Orioles selected him during the winter. When springtime rolled around, Cortes finally had his moment. He pitched relief on March 31, 2018. The 2018 Cortes is unrecognizable from his 2021 self. He gave up two walks, two singles and a double in just two innings, which brought in a run for Minnesota. 

After one disappointing season in Baltimore, Cortes made his way back north to the Yankees. This time around though, Cortes played 33 games, starting one of those. Cortes moved again in 2020, going all the way to Seattle to pitch five games for the Mariners to a 15.26 ERA. It is fair to say Cortes was not feeling it on the West Coast. In 2021, he made his way back to his roots in New York, where he is now thriving and having a career-best season.

Starting his 2021 season in Detroit and ending the regular season back home, Cortes has obviously made himself comfortable on the mound. His first major moment this season was in July at Houston. There, Cortes started, pitched 4.2 innings with two strikeouts and gave up zero runs. Not only was this huge for Cortes’s personal goals but the Yankees’ too, with the Astros 2017 World Series cheating scandal fresh in their minds.

Cortes’ teammates made the veteran finally feel at home in August. Many players wore a “Nasty Nestor” T-shirt to the pregame practice to show their appreciation for his contributions this season. This shirt sealed the deal for Cortes. In an interview with the Daily News, Cortes said, “It’s awesome. I feel like I said to my friends, ‘when you get a shirt, it’s like you finally made it.’” As small as a T-shirt seems, it also gave fans a new nickname for Cortes, “Nasty Nestor.” It is perfect for him. 

Nasty Nestor continued the regular season, starting all his games, making his way into the rotation for good. Manager Aaron Boone shared with Daily News how he was not expecting Cortes to become a backbone for the Bronx Bombers, but it is just how it all worked out. 

Boone went on to talk about how 2021 Cortes differs from 2019 Cortes and how big of a difference there really is, stating, “I think the difference between ’19 and now is he’s a better pitcher. He’s just got a better delivery, better command and crisper stuff. He’s been good for us all year.” Cortes has not had a one-off game during the 2021 season. He has gotten himself in tricky situations but always managed to get out of them safely. 

Cortes finished off the regular season at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. He gave up two runs and picked up five strikeouts across 4.2 innings. That made his season ERA 2.90, an all-time career low.

Cortes is not new to the majors, but the entire ballgame has changed with him pitching the way he has.