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Yankees name Nestor Cortes opening day starter

Sarah Stier/Getty Images North America/TNS

TAMPA, Fla. — Initially, Nestor Cortes wasn’t sure on Friday if he would get the start on opening day. But manager Aaron Boone later gave the lefty the nod against the Astros on March 28.

A 36th-round pick on his third stint with the Yankees, Cortes never considered the honor a possibility before an elbow injury sidelined Gerrit Cole.

“I’ve kind of always been the up-and-down guy early in my career,” Cortes said. “And then, at best, I’d be the fifth starter. Then I was able to get an All-Star under my belt, but this 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 only had a few options left for opening day with Cole sidelined. Carlos Rodón is lined up for the second game of the season, while Marcus Stroman is slated to pitch Game 3 after opting against a tweak to his schedule.

“I put a priority on the body,” Stroman said Thursday. “People don’t understand how much changing your schedule at this point in spring — it might seem like it’s easy. ‘Oh, he can do that.’ But every little day matters.”

On Friday, Boone said that Stroman was willing to do whatever the Yankees needed when the two discussed the possibility of the righty taking the ball on opening day.

Instead, Boone told Cortes that he will get the start shortly before he threw four ups in live batting practice. The plan is for Cortes to pitch again in some capacity next Thursday. That would give him six full days of rest before opening day.

“The more rest, the better,” said Cortes, who has been on a six-day schedule this spring but expects a switch to five days once the season starts.

While Cortes wasn’t too worried about who would get the start on opening day, he did call it a “special” honor.

“It’s just another opportunity,” Cortes said. “I’m just blessed that I’m healthy now. Happy to be able to be the opening day starter. Not ideal for us with Gerrit Cole going down, but going to try and pick up where he left off.

“It’s a little surreal for me.”

Cortes is coming off a disappointing 2023 season that saw him record a 4.97 ERA over 14 starts. Rotator cuff issues made it difficult for him to recover between outings — much like Cole — but that hasn’t been an issue for Cortes this spring.

Cortes, who has an 8.10 ERA in exhibition play, added that he’s confident in himself and the rest of the Yankees’ rotation in Cole’s absence. The reigning Cy Young winner is avoiding Tommy John surgery for now, but Cole will still miss a solid chunk of time.

“It’s something that I know he’s a little down and a little sad about it,” said Cortes, who talked to Cole earlier this week. “I’m sure he’s trying to reach Hall of Fame numbers, but it’s just a minor setback for him. He’s been great and I know he’s gonna have a long career, more than what he’s already had.”