DUNEDIN, Fla. — Nestor Cortes crossed off plenty of his to-do list Saturday: his first spring start, first time with the new pitch clock, his first official step toward being ready for the first week of the season.
He felt good and his stuff was good, which is what matters. He will have to wait for his next start to check off a statistically impressive outing in the Grapefruit League, which matters little.
Cortes, who has been rehabbing a hamstring strain for the first month of camp, debuted Saturday and allowed a couple of home runs in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark.
Cortes exited Game 4 of the ALCS last year with a left groin strain and began this spring with a hamstring strain. He felt fine Saturday, so all things considered, “I thought it went pretty well,” Cortes said.
The lefty pitched 3 ¹/₃ innings in which he allowed three hits — two of them homers by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Whit Merrifield — three walks and five runs. Cortes struck out four, touched 93.7 mph with his fastball and said his arsenal was “actually better than I thought.”
He missed on a few pitches — a slider to Guerrero and a cutter to Merrifield — and against a legitimate major league lineup, the Blue Jays didn’t miss. Cortes will have two more spring starts to sharpen his stuff.
Following the hamstring issue, Cortes, who threw 52 pitches (35 strikes), is slightly ahead of where the Yankees anticipated he would be at this juncture of spring. If there are no setbacks, he could line up to slot into the fourth spot of the rotation. Manager Aaron Boone previously thought Cortes would be the No. 5 to get an extra day.
In other springs, a pitcher missing a few Grapefruit League starts would be less cause for concern. This year, all players are learning the rhythms and adjustments of the newly introduced pitch clock, though Cortes — whose different windups will be unaffected by the clock — always has been a quick worker.
“I don’t think [pace has] been an issue for me ever,” Cortes said after his first true experience with the timer. “There are some pitches that you have to be aware of and probably take more time than you want to. But other than that, I felt pretty comfortable. Didn’t feel rushed, didn’t feel out of gas.”
Tommy Kahnle (right biceps tendinitis), who started a throwing program March 10, threw Thursday and “wasn’t feeling as good” Saturday, Boone said, so he didn’t throw as scheduled.
Boone did not think Kahnle would require additional tests.
“It slows his clock a little bit until he can throw, bounce back, keep building,” Boone said.
Carlos Rodon (mild strain of the brachioradialis muscle in his left forearm) played catch Friday for the first time since his injury. Boone said Rodon felt well.
Rodon will begin the season on the injured list and will miss at least a few weeks.
Harrison Bader (left oblique strain) is not swinging or doing any baseball activities, but the center fielder is “doing better than I think we anticipated,” Boone said.
Boone said Bader feels well and is happy with his rotational movements. He is expected to miss at least the first couple of weeks of the season.
Jonathan Loaisiga, who had left camp early this month to pitch for Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic, made his return to the Grapefruit League and threw a scoreless inning.