The tale of ‘Nasty Nestor’ Cortes and his magic mustache

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    Joon LeeESPN

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      Previously a Staff Writer at Bleacher Report
      Cornell University graduate

Nestor Cortes thinks his mustache deserves a place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“It’s a super power,” the New York Yankees left-hander said. “It was the right time. “

For Cortes’ inner circle, his major-league career can be divided into two periods: Before Mustache or After Mustache.

” “Look at the numbers, he got the mustache,” says Carlos Marti, Yankees area scout, who signed Cortes. It has power. “

Before the mustache, Cortes experimented with facial hair. He wore a goatee and even a full-beard for a while. He never found a place in the majors. In his first three years, Cortes pitched for three teams and posted a 6. 72 ERA with a 1. 709 WHIP in 42 games across 79 innings in the big leagues, striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings while walking 4.3. His confidence kept taking hits, too, particularly after the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles designated him for assignment in 2019, and again when he struggled with the Seattle Mariners in 2020.

But in May 2021, Cortes grew his now-distinctive facial hair — and also happened to supplement his arsenal of pitches. Cortes now has a 2. 35 ERA with a 0. 994 WHIP in 32 games across 153 innings, striking out 10.1 batters per nine while walking 2.3. It’s a turnaround that has the 27-year-old leading MLB with a 1. 50 ERA heading into his start Wednesday night in Minnesota. He has posted 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, making him the owner of the league’s 10th-best strikeout rate — even with its 10th-slowest fastball. “It’s a great start to the season,” said Aaron Boone, Yankees manager. “He’s got many things going for him, weapons and he can pitch well, but he also has that Nestor savvy that will serve him well in any situation. “

The mustachioed Cortes has become a leading member of one of the best starting rotations in baseball, a Yankees staff that, along with perennial Cy Young Award candidate Gerrit Cole, has gotten stellar performances out of the gate from Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees have the best record of any team in baseball, and their starting staff is second in fWAR. Cortes, also known as “Nasty Nestor”, is now in prime position to host the All-Star Game. This is just five years after he was let go by one the worst teams in baseball.

“I need to take a deep breath every time I make it past the sixth inning,” Cortes stated. “Coming up as a relief pitcher, throwing one or two innings, barely making it to the second inning, and now, I’m here throwing six innings?” Pinch me. “


SOMETIMES WHEN CORTES is in the Yankees clubhouse, he steps outside his body. He sees teammates walking around him, such as Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Cole — stars plastered on billboards — and wonders where he fits in.

” Is this real? Cortes replied. Cortes said, “What am I doing? “

When Cortes was seven months old, his family moved from Surgidero de Batabano to the United States. His father won a visa lottery. His father was a forklift driver in Hialeah (Florida), and his mother as a manicurist. Cortes was able to play in travel leagues as a child thanks to financial assistance from his coaches, who his parents insisted on paying back. As he entered his late teens, he dreamed of following in the footsteps of other players from the Miami area who had recently made it to the big leagues — such as Anthony Rizzo, Manny Machado and his baseball role model, Gio Gonzalez.

As the 2013 draft neared, Cortes was graduating from Hialeah High School, but he was unsure about his major league prospects. He agreed to pitch at Florida International with Miami Dade County as his backup. Marti, who had coached Cortes in middle-school, told Cortes that he was confident that he could play at the major league level and began advocating for him at the Yankees’ top office.

With nine rounds left in the draft, Marti let Cortes know he was 10th on the list of players the Yankees wanted. Marti followed Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees vice president of amateur scouting, to the bathroom to push for Cortes’s selection.

” I just waited for his outside the door,” Marti said. “He was not happy. “

But Marti got his way — the Yankees drafted Cortes in the 36th round, and he signed a contract for an $85,000 bonus. Cortes was a rookie in baseball for three years, before he made his way up the minor league ladder. He struggled financially and ate Little Caesars pizza three times per week. In Double-A in 2017, he started playing with timing on the mound to compensate for his lack of velocity, experimenting with different windup speeds and pauses. When the Yankees did not add Cortes to their 40-man roster after he posted a 2. 06 ERA across three minor league levels, the Orioles drafted him in the Rule 5. He believed he was finally here. The reality was quite different. In four games for Baltimore, he allowed 10 hits, two homers, four runs, two walks and struck out three. After two weeks, the Orioles sent him back to the Yankees. He struggled in 2019, posting a 5. 67 ERA in 33 games at the major league level. They were the last team in baseball,” Cortes stated. “I was DFA’d by the worst baseball team. How can I ever join a big league team with another team? “


THERE WAS NO backup plan. Cortes didn’t go to college, and he had no idea what a job other than baseball would look like. Cortes once dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. But the thought of returning to school scared him. He had to make baseball work. He decided to make baseball work. Through the second half of 2020 and in the offseason leading into 2021, Cortes revamped his entire repertoire, changing the grip on his fastball to create more backspin while adding a slider and a cutter. Cortes gained confidence again by working with Rob Marcello, the former Tacoma Rainiers pitching coach, and in the Dominican Winter League. Cortes learned to embrace his uniqueness — his movement and deception — to make him stand out.

By May 2021, Cortes was in Triple-A, back in the Yankees system, but with a newfound confidence. Cortes decided to mark this new chapter of his life by expressing his greater faith in himself. His belief in his ability pitch and stay in the major leagues.

He decided that he would grow his mustache.

His new look was mocked by his teammates when Cortes was called back to the big leagues. They ignored him.

“It’s part of what makes him unique and special,” said Boone in July 2021. “I laughed at him for it, but it is perfect. “

Whether it was his new facial hair, or his improved arsenal — either way, Cortes’ performance immediately improved. The slider, cutter, and velocity bump were crucial. From 2020 to 2022, his percentage of first-pitch strikes increased from 61.4% to 71.1% with hitters swinging at pitches outside the zone increasing from 16.1% to 30.3%.

Combined with his unusual timing mechanisms on the mound, Cortes experienced a breakout 2021 campaign with the Yankees and solidified a spot in the rotation for 2022, and he is establishing himself as one of the sport’s best pitchers so far this season. He has helped rally the clubhouse, too, famously adopting a team turtle named Bronxie during the 2021 stretch run. Cortes stated that Bronxie now resides in a nearby community centre, where he is “well looked after”. “We’re going to visit him in a couple of weeks. “)

His breakthrough has sparked a flood of messages from his hometown. Hialeah considers Cortes a source for inspiration. Jonathan Hernandez — who worked with Cortes as his pitching coach at Hialeah High and now serves as head coach of the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats — said Cortes’ upbringing in Hialeah provided him the mental strength to work through his struggles.

“All we get is earned. Hernandez stated that nothing is ever given. “Like in poker. All Nestor needed were some chips and a seat. He placed his bets on himself. “

Cortes witnessed many talented teammates quit while trying to get into the big leagues.

He considers his home and the difficulties that many people face in getting out of their situation. He recalls his father working in the early mornings to pay his loans for travel expenses. He recalls everything it took to get on the Yankee Stadium’s mound.

” It gives me reason to believe,” Cortes stated. “A reason to keep trying every day. “

If he ever feels doubtful, however, there is always another source of strength right under his nose.

“I’ve been pitching well since the mustache arrived,” Cortes stated. “I hope I can keep this mustache for many years to come. “

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