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Once a surprise feel-good story, Yankees’ Nestor Cortes has become one of baseball’s best pitchers

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Nestor Cortes clapping into his glove home day game

Nestor Cortes clapping into his glove home day game

Nestor Cortes called Matt Blake, the Yankees’ pitching coach, last winter to ask Blake if he had an “outside chance” of making the team. It’s ludicrous to think of that now, based on a season of wonder that includes Cortes taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning Monday afternoon against the Texas Rangers.

Yes, that nugget of insecurity plays nicely into Cortes’ everyman persona and he looks nothing like some of the super-sized specimens who have the same job he does. He doesn’t tax radar guns with blazing heat; nor does the former 36th-round pick have the uber-prospect resume that some of his teammates do.

But just because he might look like the guy in the cubicle next to you doesn’t mean we should be amazed every time the lefty does something wonderful on a pitching mound. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that Monday’s dominance pushes him past the realm of mustachioed quirk into what he really is, at least right now:

One of the best pitchers in the league.

The Yankees beat the Rangers, 1-0, Monday thanks to Anthony Rizzo’s RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning. But Cortes was the big story, using his wily cutter to coax whiffs and soft contact from Texas hitters. He was never in significant trouble and he finished with 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing only a single to Eli White. Cortes, who got a no-decision in the longest start of his career, struck out 11 and walked four, not allowing a hit to the first 26 batters he faced.

He lowered his ERA to 1.41 this season. Since May 30 of last season, his 2021 debut, he has a 2.52 ERA in 125 innings pitched. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 consecutive starts, tied with Ron Guidry and Bob Shawkey for the third-longest streak in Yankee history.

Here’s the kind of hyperbole Cortes is generating: When Yanks’ manager Aaron Boone was ruminating over Cortes’ cutter, he said this – “First one of the game, to (Marcus) Semien, it looked like it just disappeared over there, like a Steve Carlton slider. Semien had a bead on it and it just disappeared under his barrel.”

Carlton, a Hall of Fame lefty who won four Cy Young Awards, “was a great pitcher,” Boone reminded reporters. Not that Boone was drawing an exact Carlton-to-Cortes parallel. But if your stuff reminds people of Carlton’s hellacious slider, well, you’re doing something right.

May 9, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the second inning at Yankee Stadium.

May 9, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the second inning at Yankee Stadium.

Cortes threw 51 cutters and got 12 swings and misses with the pitch, according to Baseball Savant. Pairing that pitch with his fastball, which averages about 90 mph, is how Cortes baffles hitters. The cutter, which is about five mph slower, “looks like a fastball coming out of his hand,” said catcher Jose Trevino. “That’s the good thing about a cutter – if it looks like a fastball, you have to commit.”

Don’t snooze on the fastball, either, Boone says. Even if it doesn’t hit triple digits.

“It’s a really good fastball,” Boone said. “Don’t get enamored with the number. There are guys who throw 96, 98 where it’s good hitting. It’s not a good fastball. We’re able to measure those things a lot better now. Nestor’s is not good hitting.

“He does a lot of things, he works both sides of the plate. With every guy who’s not overpowering, you have to establish a piece of the inside part of the plate and he’s not afraid to do that.”

Amid the tension of a 0-0 game, Cortes seemed unflappable. He walked two hitters in the seventh inning, the Rangers’ most significant threat, but struck out Andy Ibáñez and then retired Kole Calhoun on a grounder. His pitch count was low – the final pitch he threw in the eighth was No. 103 – and Boone would have let him take a shot at a no-hitter had it stayed that way and Cortes didn’t find trouble.

But White’s single ended his day. Cortes got a standing ovation from those in the crowd who showed up for the rainout makeup. Earlier, some fans had chanted “Nasty Nes-tor” at him as he set down the Rangers.

Cortes says that the 2018-20 seasons were “pretty rough on me.” After the ‘20 season, he was convinced that his fastball and cutter should be his primary weapons. “The location has been big and the bump in velo has been big for me, too,” he said.

“I’ve always told myself, I’ve been playing baseball since I was four. That’s the only thing I know how to do. I came out of high school, I don’t have anything to fall back on, so I was gonna ride this as long as I could. Thankfully, it started clicking last year.”

The way it’s going now, Cortes might be able to ride this for quite awhile. It should stop being a surprise to anyone else.

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Four-star DL/TE Jaxon Howard names Miami football finalist with June 24 visit

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Sep 30, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Four-star 2023 defensive lineman and tight end Jaxon Howard has named the Miami football program as one of four finalists with LSU, Michigan and Minnesota. The Minneapolis Robbinsdale Cooper prospect tweeted his finalists on Monday afternoon with his visits that will include Coral Gables from June 24 through 26.

Minnesota is the favorite to sign Howard with a 21.6 percent chance to 18.6 for Miami according to On3 Sports. LSU is at seven percent with Michigan less than a one percent chance. Wisconsin which is not a finalist is listed ahead of LSU. Notre Dame and Oklahoma who are also not finalists are tied with the Tigers.

Howard previously took an unofficial visit to Miami in January. Miami also hosted Howard during their spring game in April. Howard reportedly additionally attended LSU and Minnesota’s spring games last month and is expected to commit in July. Howard is the son of former Stanford star Willie Howard.

As expected, defensive line coach Joe Salave’a and tight ends coach Stephen Field are leading the recruitment for Howard. Howard seems more likely to play DL in college than TE. At 6’4, 245 pounds, Allen Trieu of 247 Sports said of Howard “more of a rarer specimen on defense…he can be a combo inside-outside player on the defensive line.”

FINAL 4

The past 3 years I have been blessed to be offered by over 60 amazing colleges. I built genuine relationships with so many coaches & value all the time they have spent with me. After 41 Unofficial Visits & much Prayer I have Narrowed my Top 4 and will take my Officials pic.twitter.com/3QXdA9Fbx1

— Jaxon Howard (@11JaxonHoward) May 16, 2022

The Miami football program has five commits for 2023 with only three-star linebacker Bobby Washington on defense. Mario Cristobal has made the DL a priority in just over five months since being hired. Miami has added eight DL in the Class of 2022 and through the transfer portal since Cristobal was hired in December.

The addition of Howard to 2022 signees Nyjalik Kelly and Cyrus Moss would provide Miami with a bright future at edge rusher. Cristobal and Salave’a coached Kayvon Thibodeau at Oregon who was the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Howard is the 87th ranked player in the Class of 2023.

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Is Elieser Hernandez not good enough for the Miami Marlins rotation?

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - AUGUST 15: Elieser Hernandez #57 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at loanDepot park on August 15, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

MIAMI, FLORIDA – AUGUST 15: Elieser Hernandez #57 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at loanDepot park on August 15, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Elieser Hernandez seems to be an unpopular member of the Miami marlins rotation, with many calling for his replacement. We even suggested it ourselves. Should Elieser really be pushed out of the rotation though? Is there potential? Let’s find out…

Elieser Hernandez is somehow still in the Miami Marlins rotation.

Elieser Hernandez has so far started 7 games and pitched 33.2 innings. He has a 6.15 ERA/6.52 FIP. He has 8.02 K/9 and 3.21 BB/9. Yeah this isn’t good to say the least. The bright sides are his 4.46 xERA and 4.96 xFIP. Well bright as in better than his ERA and FIP.

He doesn’t have a track record of better results either. Elieser’s best ERA has been 3.16 in 2020 and his best ever FIP has been his 3.89 that same season. Unfortunately both came in a very short sample of 25.2 innings. These are promising results, but the short sample size is a major red flag.

Is there promise when looking at his Minor League statistics? Let’s take a look… he did well in AAA in in 2018, starting 9 games and delivering 48 innings of 1.12 ERA ball. He also had 12.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. Those are impressive numbers, but so far they haven’t translated to the Majors.

What about Elieser Hernandez’s fastball velocity? He sits at 91.3 MPH. That’s not very promising either. Unfortunately the more I look at his stats, the more I feel that he just needs to be replaced at this point. I just don’t see a reason for giving him more starts.

Max Meyer? Edward Cabrera? Why not just give one of them a chance already? Find out what we really have with them? I think that at this point Elieser Hernandez is best as a swingman type, filling in when there’s an injury. I just don’t see much point in continuing to give him starts and there’s just no obvious upside to keep hoping for.

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Miami Marlins career retrospective: A.J. Burnett

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24: A. J. Burnett #34 of the Florida Marlins pitches against the San Francisco Giants during an Major League Baseball game July 24, 2005 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. Burnett played for the Marlins in 1999-05. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 24: A. J. Burnett #34 of the Florida Marlins pitches against the San Francisco Giants during an Major League Baseball game July 24, 2005 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. Burnett played for the Marlins in 1999-05. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Do you remember A.J. Burnett? I recently wrote a career retrospective on his more famous Miami Marlins (then Florida Marlins teammate). Burnett was once a highly touted prospect who was supposed to be an ace of the future. He was officially a part of the 2002 World Series winning team, though he didn’t actually pitch during the playoffs. Let’s take a look at his Miami Marlins career.

A.J. Burnett was drafted in the eighth round of the 1995 draft by the New York Mets. On February 6, 1998 he was traded to the Miami Marlins in the Al Leiter trade along with Minor League OF Rob Stratton and Minor League LHP Jesus Sanchez (yes he has the same name as our current CF). The Fish traded Leiter and Minor League 2B Ralph Milliard in the trade. If you’re interested to know who won that trade using Wins Above Replacement, the Miami Marlins ended up with 12.5 WAR and the New York Mets with 28.1 WAR, so the New York Mets won by 15.6 WAR.

A.J. Burnett rose up the prospect rankings and finally got the call in 1999. He started 7 games and pitched for 41.1 innings, delivering a 3.48 ERA/4.30 FIP. The following season he received 13 starts and delivered 82.2 innings of 4.79 ERA/4.68 FIP ball. In 2001 he started 27 games and delivered 173.1 innings of 4.05 ERA/4.63 FIP. At this point he appeared as perhaps best a mid-rotation arm , however he was going to improve.

In 2002, A.J. Burnett broke out with a 3.30 ERA/3.19 FIP in 31 games (29 starts) and 204.1 innings pitched. Unfortunately the newly crowned ace then got injured and only started in 4 games in 2003, with a 4.70 ERA/4.94 FIP. Coming off a World Championship the previous season, the Miami Marlins welcomed Burnett back in 2004 for 20 games (19 starts) and 120 innings of 3.68 ERA/3.19 FIP ball. Burnett was back as an ace, but needed to work his way back to a full workload.

2005 turned out to be the final season for A.J. Burnett in a Miami Marlins uniform, as he left after the season as a free agent. In that season, Burnett capped off his tenure with The Fish with a 3.44 ERA/3.11 FIP in 32 games and 209 innings pitched. It was a great platform season and led to him leaving for Toronto. A.J. Burnett had a couple very good seasons for The Fish, but he was never an integral part of a pennant or a World Series winning team and didn’t provide longevity, thus not having a memorable career in the end unfortunately.

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