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Nestor Cortes Selected As Yankees' Opening Day Starter

The Yankees will give the ball to their All-Star southpaw to begin the season against the Astros.

The New York Yankees have decided their starting pitcher on Opening Day - and they went with a fan favorite.

Meredith Marakovits, the Yankees' clubhouse reporter for YES Network, announced that Nestor Cortes Jr. will take the hill on March 28 against the Houston Astros, officially beginning the Bronx Bombers' 2024 season. He will go up against fellow left-hander Framber Valdez.

The responsibility of starting on Opening Day marks the latest milestone for Cortes, who has overcome adversity throughout his career and ascended up the Yankees' starting rotation.

“I’ve kind of always been the up-and-down guy earlier in my career, at best a fifth starter,” Cortes told beat reporter Bryan Hoch. “I was able to get the All-Star [appearance] under my belt, but this [Opening Day assignment] was far-fetched for me. I’m just happy that Aaron Boone and the organization have the trust in me to go out there for the first game.”

The Yankees were originally planning to start Gerrit Cole, the team ace and reigning AL Cy Young winner, on Opening Day. However, with Cole being shelved for at least a month or two, the team had a long and difficult decision to make.

Carlos Rodon and Marcus Stroman were considered, but will ultimately start the second and third games, respectively. Yankee manager Aaron Boone ruled out Rodon on Wednesday, as he preferred to keep him on his current throwing schedule. Meanwhile, Stroman was offered the Opening Day start, but he chose to stick to his schedule, which would put him in line to start the Yankees' home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 5.

Cortes will look to reinforce the team's trust in him; after two previous stints with the Yankees, as well as short tenures with the Baltimore Orioles (in 2018) and Seattle Mariners (2020), he enjoyed a successful 2021 season that saw him make 22 appearances and 14 starts. As both a starter and a reliever, he struck out 103 batters against just 25 walks, while logging a 2.90 ERA.

This was the preview to a fantastic breakout season in 2022. Taking the mound 28 times, all starts, Cortes went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA, a 0.922 WHIP, 163 strikeouts against only 38 walks, and a 3.12 FIP, all of which led to a much-deserved appearance in the All-Star Game. His unconventional pitching style, which include deceptive sidearm deliveries and hesitation pitches, made him a massive fan favorite in the Bronx.

Currently, Cortes is looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2023 campaign, which saw him make only 12 starts while being generally ineffective when he was available. His Spring Training performance has been rough so far, as he has an 8.10 ERA in three starts; although he has 13 strikeouts and has allowed just two walks, he also has allowed 17 hits in just 10 innings with a .362 batting average against. Despite these struggles, Cortes has stated that he is back to full health.

The 29-year-old is scheduled to make his next Spring Training start on March 21, which should give him a week of rest before toeing the rubber in Houston. With his comfort level restored, Cortes now aims to execute his gameplan and start the 2024 season on the right note.