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Nasty Nestor Flirts with No-No

Nestor Cortes

Nestor Cortes

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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“Nasty Nestor” made a run at changing his nickname to “No-Hit Nestor” on Monday.

Nestor Cortes held the Rangers without a base hit for 7 1/3 innings at Yankee Stadium on a sunny Monday afternoon before Eli White blooped a single to right-center field, ending the left-hander’s day.

White was immediately erased when reliever Clay Holmes induced a double-play ball to keep the game scoreless. The Yankees plated the game’s only run on an Anthony Rizzo RBI double in the bottom of the eighth to collect their American League-leading 20th victory.

While he had to settle for a tough-luck no-decision, Cortes’ line was brilliant. He walked four but struck out 11 batters while yielding just the one hit. Cortes’ 7 1/3 frames was a career-high, as were his 17 swinging strikes.

Twelve of those whiffs came on Cortes’ cutter, which has become the southpaw’s go-to pitch. He came into Monday’s outing having thrown it 38.5 percent of the time, up from 23.6 percent in 2021. Against the Rangers, the cutter represented exactly half of Cortes’ offerings.

In six starts this season, Cortes has posted a microscopic 1.41 ERA. Among qualifiers, only Logan Gilbert (1.36) has a lower mark among AL hurlers. His WHIP sits at 0.97, along with an impressive 42/11 K/BB ratio across 32 innings of work.

Cortes’ superb run began last season, of course, as he now holds a 2.52 ERA since the beginning of 2021. That’s the lowest in the AL among pitchers with at least 120 innings. A 3.78 FIP in 2021, along with the fact that Cortes is, to some degree, a bit of a junkballer, had some projecting plenty of regression in 2022.

Cortes obviously isn’t a sub-2.00 ERA guy moving forward. In particular, he’s a flyball pitcher who is likely to surrender his fair share of home run balls as the weather warms up (he’s only allowed two so far this season). His bat-missing is fairly established at this point, though, and he’s done a good job of limiting the walks and hard contact.

As things stand right now, Cortes’ next two starts are lined up to be against a White Sox team known for feasting off left-handed pitching. They’ll be stiff tests as Cortes looks to keep rolling in what’s shaping up to be the first All-Star season for the 27-year-old.

Starting Pitchers with an EDGE

Jose Quintana vs. LAD – 6 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 5 K

For the first time since August of 2019, Quintana had a start in which he went at least six innings without allowing a run. It came against a Dodgers team which leads the majors in runs per game (granted, they are much better versus right-handed pitching). Quintana did issue a season-high four walks and also hit a batter, but he was able to dodge trouble in only permitting two hits on the night. The 33-year-old has fallen off the radar the last couple seasons but is off to a fine start in 2022 with a 2.70 ERA in six outings.

Paul Blackburn vs. DET – 6 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 3 K

Blackburn moved to 4-0 with a terrific showing against the Tigers on Monday, cruising through his 6 2/3 frames on just 88 pitches. It was the longest outing he’s had in the majors since back in his rookie season back in 2017. The start also came after what had been his only poor showing of 2022 his last time out. Blackburn now holds a 1.74 ERA for the season and has displayed pristine control, issuing a mere three walks in six starts covering 31 innings.

Tyler Wells vs. KC – 6 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 K

Wells surrendered a two-out RBI single in the top of the first inning Monday, but he then held the Royals to just three hits and no runs the rest of the way. The big right-hander’s velocity and strikeouts have dropped this season in his move to the rotation, but the transition has been, overall, a positive one. He’s been particularly good the last three times out, permitting only four runs and 10 hits across 16 innings of work.

Hitters with an EDGE

Josh Naylor vs. CWS – 3-for-5, 2 HR, BB, 8 RBI

Entering the 8th inning of a game with zero RBI and finishing the contest with 8 RBI is difficult to do, but Naylor pulled off the feat Monday against the White Sox. After doubling in a run in the eighth, Naylor crushed the first pitch he saw from Liam Hendriks for a game-tying grand slam (the first of his career) in the ninth. Not content, Naylor added a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the 11th.

Shohei Ohtani vs. TB – 3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 R, 5 RBI

Naylor wasn’t the only one with a two-homer showing on Monday and, like Taylor, one of those bombs was a grand slam. Ohtani hit the second of back-to-back shots with Mike Trout in the sixth inning and then in the seventh crushed his first career grand slam. It’s been a slow start offensively for Ohtani this season, but he’s suddenly up to six home runs and 21 RBI to go along with four stolen bases.

Brandon Drury vs. MIL – 2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI

Drury continued his red-hot start to May with a three-run blast off of Brandon Woodruff on Monday, also adding a single on the night. In eight contests this month, Drury has gone 12-for-32 with three home runs and 11 RBI. His 18 RBI leads the Reds (granted, that’s a low bar to clear). Drury has been a fixture in the No. 2 spot in Cincinnati’s lineup of late.

Priority Pickup

Alek Thomas, OF, Diamondbacks – Available in 83 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues

Thomas has been one of the most polished bats to come out of the high school ranks in the last several drafts and he had no trouble carrying that over to pro ball. He also added more power to his game in 2021, slugging 18 home runs. Thomas had popped four dingers and stolen three bases when the Diamondbacks called him up over the weekend, and he contributed a double and scored a run in his debut. It’s possible he’s still more of a high-floor guy, but Thomas’ hit tool looks major-league ready and he could play his way into sticking around for good.

Closing Time

Dany Jimenez was able to pitch around a couple walks to lock down a save and a 2-0 win for the Athletics on Monday in Detroit, striking out three in a scoreless inning. The right-hander is now 5-for-5 in save chances this season and has yet to give up an earned run in 12 appearances. With Lou Trivino struggling after a return from a stint on the COVID-19 injured list, Jimenez’s grip on the closer job appears secure for now.

Mark Melancon allowed a hit but still needed just six pitches to dispose of the Marlins on Monday. It was a nice bounce-back effort from the veteran closer after Melancon suffered his lone blown so far this season his last time out. He’s 6-for-7 in save opportunity despite managing just four strikeouts over 10 innings of work.

Emmanuel Clase was saddled with a blown save when he let the ghost runner score in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday versus the White Sox, but he was credited with a win after they took the lead for good in the 11th. He’s blown two saves in eight chances and isn’t getting as many strikeouts as you’d like, but Clase is still sitting on a 0.97 WHIP.

Liam Hendriks also suffered a blown save in the same game, but his was much worse, as he served up a game-tying grand slam on the first pitch he threw. Hendriks was pitching for the sixth time in eight days. Though he has a 20/4 K/B ratio over his 13 2/3 innings, Hendriks’ other numbers aren’t great. The flyball pitcher can have problems with the home run ball sometimes.

Tuesday’s Matchup of the Day

Justin Verlander (HOU) vs. Joe Ryan (MIN)

The 39-year-old ace of the Astros locks horns with the 25-year-old potential ace of the Twins. You wouldn’t know Verlander is closing in on his 40th birthday and coming off a missed season due to Tommy John surgery, as he’s been excellent with a 1.93 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 31/4 K/BB ratio over 32 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Ryan boasts a 1.63 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 28/7 K/BB ratio in his 27 2/3 frames. Baseball has had many low-scoring affairs in the first month of action, and this one promises to be another one.

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American League Quick Hits: Michael Kopech permitted just one unearned run on two hits and two walks while fanning seven in six frames Monday against the Guardians. … He was overshadowed a bit by teammate Shohei Ohtani, but Mike Trout had a homer, three RBI and three runs scored Monday versus the Rays. … Noah Syndergaard fanned seven across 5 1/3 frames of one-run ball in Monday’s win over the Rays. … A.J. Pollock went 2-for-5 with a three-run homer in the White Sox’ extra-innings loss to the Guardians. … Manuel Margot tweaked his hamstring on Monday against the Angels.

National League Quick Hits: Kyle Hendricks came within one out of a shutout on Monday in San Diego, instead settling for 8 2/3 frames of one-run ball with seven strikeouts. … Carlos Rodon limited the Rockies to two runs and fanned 12 batters on Monday. … Ranger Suárez had his best start of the season on Monday in Seattle, striking out seven while holding the Mariners scoreless for six innings. … Seiya Suzuki was pulled from Monday’s game versus the Padres with a sore ankle. ... Mauricio Dubon went 3-for-4 with a homer, three RBI and two runs scored Monday versus the Rockies. … Nick Castellanos went 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored as the Phillies blew out the Mariners. … Luis Castillo yielded three runs and three hits in 4 2/3 innings Monday in a no-decision versus the Brewers in his season debut.