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Yankees name Nestor Cortes (4.97 ERA in 2023) as Gerrit Cole's Opening Day starter replacement

With Gerrit Cole no longer able to start on Opening Day, the New York Yankees are turning to their next best option. Which is apparently Nestor Cortes.

The left-hander was named the Yankees' Opening Day starter on Friday, replacing the reigning AL Cy Young winner who has been sidelined for at least a month with an elbow injury. It will be the first Opening Day start of Cortes' career.

The Yankees are scheduled to open their season March 28 on the road against the Houston Astros. Yankees manager Aaron Boone told Cortes the news on Friday.

Via MLB.com's Bryan Hoch:

"I told [Boone] that I'm prepared for it," Cortes said. "He affirmed that he knew I could take up that task. I've been up and down, I've been back and forth between starting and bullpen in '21. I've got put into many different roles throughout my whole career, so I feel like I can go out there and show I can be the guy."

In Cortes, the Yankees will be starting arguably the most popular player among the remaining rotation, but one who dealt with a brutal 2023 (he's not alone among the Yankees in that). The 29-year-old's season was derailed in June by a rotator cuff strain in his left shoulder. He only made one start after that and was eventually shut down for the season.

Cortes' time on the mound in 2023 wasn't very successful either, though that could easily be attributable to his shoulder issues. He averaged 5.28 innings per start with a 4.97 ERA, 4.49 FIP and 1.247 WHIP in 12 starts.

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 26: Nestor Cortes #65 of the New York Yankees pitches during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)
Nestor Cortes is the Yankees' Opening Day starter. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images) (New York Yankees via Getty Images)

The reason why Cortes is still held in high enough regard for Opening Day is what came before his struggles. Between 2021 and 2022, Cortes posted a 2.61 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 251⅓ innings, turning into an effective No. 2 starter behind Cole after years of trying to stick in the big leagues.

Still, Cortes didn't indicate he was fazed about having to bounce back from a year like 2023:

"Every year, you have something to prove no matter if it was a good year or a bad year. If it's a good year, people are going to ask if you can repeat it. If it's a bad year, what can you turn around? For me, it's just focusing on Game 1 and after that, just concentrate more on my rehab stuff and being able to come out every five days."

Even if Cortes is optimistic, him being the choice for Opening Day starter underscores how reliant the Yankees were on Cole. The would-be AL East contenders' rotation depth was a major issue after dealing away Michael King and Jhony Brito in the Juan Soto deal. Signing Marcus Stroman helped the cause, but the team will have to rely upon an unproven arm like Clayton Beeter until Cole returns, and that's assuming everyone else stays healthy.