Nestor Cortes may be the least-heralded top starting pitcher in the major leagues.
The Yankees left-hander was five outs from a no-hitter when he threw his 103rd pitch, and No. 9 hitter Eli White looped a single into short center field. Cortes, 27, a regular starter in the major leagues since only last July, rocked back twice slightly and grinned with disappointment and satisfaction.
Yankees 1, Rangers 0 | Box Score | Play-by-Play
“When the emotions and the adrenaline is rushing, everything feels great,” he said. “But now I feel like I got hit by a truck.”
Cortes, Clay Holmes and Aroldis Chapman combined on a two-hitter, Anthony Rizzo doubled in a run in the eighth and the Yankees beat the Texas Rangers, 1-0, on Monday for their sixth straight series win.
Cortes is 1-1 with a 1.41 E.R.A., among the top five in the major leagues and a big reason the Yankees are an A.L.-best 20-8. He has 42 strikeouts and 11 walks in 32 innings, holding hitters to a .177 average.
A 36th-round draft pick by the Yankees in 2013, Cortes was taken by Baltimore in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, made his debut at the start of the following season and was returned to the Yankees that April. He spent the rest of the year in the minors, shuttled back and forth in 2019, then was dealt to Seattle. He was released after a 15.26 E.R.A. in five games with the Mariners in 2020 and re-signed with the Yankees.
“The three years, ’18, ’19 and 20 were pretty rough on me,” Cortes said. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was 4. I feel like 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 going to ride this as long I could.”
Cortes focused on fastballs and cutters, improved his conditioning, boosted his average fastball velocity by 2 mph and joined the Yankees rotation at midseason.
“The game’s littered with people that weren’t always the high pick or the top prospect,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s persevered. He’s experienced everything. He’s had to fight for everything.”
Making his 22nd big league start and sixth this season, Cortes pitched a big league career-high seven and a third innings, walked four and struck out 11, one shy of his high.
“He worked the bottom of the zone really well,” said Rangers leadoff hitter Marcus Semien, who went 0 for 3 against Cortes with a pair of strikeouts. “You have to honor that fastball at the bottom, and then he throws a cutter right under it, it’s a recipe for success.”
Cortes threw 68 pitches for strikes.
“I think the first one of the game, to Semien, it looked like just disappearing over there,” Boone said. “It looked like a Steve Carlton slider.”
The Yankees have won 13 of their past 15 games, taking two of three in the series against Texas despite scoring just five runs.
Cortes beamed with pride.
“I feel like I belong,” he said.
Box scores and summaries from the rest of Monday’s action.