Thursday, June 16, 2022

Yankees' Cortes Outduels McClanahan In Battle Of Premier Lefties


Nestor Cortes pitching to Randy Arozarena in the fourth inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

Wednesday night's 4-3 Yankees victory over the Tampa Bay Rays featured a matchup of two of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball, Nestor Cortes of the Yankees and Shane McClanahan of the Rays.

Cortes entered this one with a 5-2 record and a 1.96 ERA, but coming off his toughest start of the season. Last Wednesday, against the Twins in Minnesota, he allowed four runs, including two home runs, both season-highs allowed by Cortes, along with seven hits and no walks, and just three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings in an 8-1 Twins victory.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said in his pregame press conference on Wednesday afternoon of Cortes using his winding path to the Major Leagues to be able to bounce back, "I think it's definitely a factor, you know, his experience has worked for him. Part of becoming a big-leaguer, and a successful big-leaguer, is, can you learn from your experiences? Can you learn from your failures and adversity, and good times? How do you take that and grow from it, and adjust because you've got to constantly make adjustments from it, but I think his path is definitely a source of strength for him, and something that he absolutely draws on, and I think is part of his resolve, and his toughness, and his gamer - I would call him a gamer, you know. I'm sure his path has had a major impact on that."

McClanahan came into Wednesday night's game with numbers a tad better than Nasty Nestor, a 7-2 record and a 1.87 ERA. He also was coming off his best start of the season, as he threw eight innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, June 9, in which he allowed one unearned run on two hits and one walk, with nine strikeouts.

Boone said of McClanahan, "He's really tough, great stuff, really, really great left arm, I mean, so obviously, you might see up to 100 miles an hour with the fastball, secondary stuff is all good, strike-thrower, you know, you gotta take advantage of the few mistakes that he makes. You've seen him kind of evolve, I think he kind of debuted at the end of that 2020 season, going into the playoffs, you know, this big left arm, and then we've seen him last year just get better and better, and this year been one of the best pitchers in the sport. You know you have your work cut out for you when McClanahan's on the hill, and it's a combination of just a maturing pitcher with great stuff that has a real good attack plan now."

In the game, it wasn't long before they took "advantage of the few mistakes that he makes," as Boone said, with Aaron Judge depositing one into the right-field seats for a solo home run in the first inning to make it 1-0 Yankees.

Cortes cruised through the first five innings, scattering a pair of walks and a double to Yandy Diaz in the third inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees added to their lead. Josh Donaldson blasted one to center field that Brett Phillips (who entered for Kevin Kiermaier in the third) caught up to on the warning track, but the ball popped out of his glove.

Donaldson ended up at second base, and then Gleyber Torres also hit one to center, moving Donaldson up to third. Aaron Hicks was up next, and he struck out, and the fans came down hard on the slumping outfielder as he walked back to the dugout.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa was up next, and after he worked the count to 3-0, McClanahan intentionally walked him.

Kyle Higashioka was up next, and he hit a blast down the left-field line, a bit inside the foul pole, for a three-run shot to make it 4-0 Yankees. It was Higashioka's third home run of the season, and incidentally all three came in six at-bats, including this one. 

Cortes came out for the sixth with a big lead, but he ran into some trouble, starting with Diaz getting another double to open the frame. Then, in a one-in-a-million, Cortes dropped the ball thrown back to him while the next hitter, Harold Ramirez, was up, and that allowed Diaz to move up to third.

After Ramirez popped out to first, the fourth such out that Cortes got on the night, Manuel Margot doubled home Diaz to make it 4-1. Cortes then walked Arozarena, and that was all for his night.

Wandy Peralta came on to close out the sixth, and then the Yankees survived a late scare, as Tampa plated a pair of runs in a wacky eighth inning to cut it to 4-3.

Cortes went 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits and three walks, with four strikeouts, to earn the win and improve to 6-2 on the season.

"I thought he was really good; I thought his stuff was really good tonight, and really early, I thought it was apparent he had a really good fastball going," Boone said afterwards. "I thought he was sharp, but I do think he kind of hit a little bit of a wall in that last inning, I thought his stuff fell off just a little bit, probably trying to overcook some balls...I do feel he kind of ran out of steam a little bit there in that sixth inning, but overall I thought he was really sharp tonight."

McClanahan went six innings, allowing four runs, just one earned (all three in the fifth were unearned since it started with the Phillips error), on three hits and two walks, with seven strikeouts, and his record dropped to 7-3.

Boone said of Higashioka's homer, "That was huge; when Higgy's going well, he's a power threat, especially against left-handed pitching, good to see him get a couple on the board here in these last couple days, and that's a huge one there off obviously a really good one in McClanahan, who I thought was really good tonight. We didn't have much against him, Judgie with the big homer to start things, but we were able to put a little rally together there, and then Higgy gets him, so anytime you go and you get four up against him, you'll take that, especially when, I feel like, it looked to me like he was 'on.'"

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