Nestor Cortes has squared off with some solid pitchers in 2022. But with all due respect to the likes of Michael Kopech and Cal Quantrill, none hold a candle to Shohei Ohtani, who the Angels bumped up to start the doubleheader opener on Thursday. It didn’t matter; the offense handled Ohtani with ease and Cortes once again twirled a masterpiece in a 6-1 Yankees victory.
Nestor’s first test came in the opening frame, when he was tasked with staring down the Angels’ intimidating top-of-the-lineup trio of Taylor Ward (228 OPS + start to 2022), Ohtani (the 2021 AL MVP), and Mike Trout (already an inner-circle Hall of Famer). The results: strikeout, groundout, strikeout. Ho-hum, right?
Despite excellent numbers in 2022, Ohtani was not remotely as sharp as Cortes. Longtime Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter made his first start there in pinstripes, and after working the right-hander for 11 pitches, he belted the 25th leadoff homer of his career to put New York up, 1-0.
Just like that, Carpenter equaled his 2021 power production in St. Louis (three homers) in 232 fewer plate appearances.
Another man who has worked hard to move past a disappointing 2021 is Gleyber Torres. A few batters later, he got his shot at Ohtani and launched a four-bagger of his own:
To play a similar game to the Carpenter comparison, Gleyber has gone from 9 homers in 516 plate appearances in 2021 to 10 in 169 plate appearances in 2022. To say that the 25-year-old needed a comeback year like this after a pair of lackluster seasons is an understatement. Now, Torres just has to keep it up for the full 162.
Cortes worked out of a couple jams over the next couple innings to keep the Halos off the board. A couple of weak singles and a two-out walk to Juan Lagares loaded the bases for old friend Andrew Velazquez, but thanks to an excellent stop by Anthony Rizzo, the runners were stranded. Then with two down in the third, Trout walked and Matt Duffy lined a single to give Luis Rengifo a scoring opportunity. Cortes held strong, inducing a weak grounder in front of the plate that Jose Trevino gloved and threw to Rizzo, ending the inning.
Although Ohtani stranded a couple runners of his own in the second, the Bronx Bombers continued to live up to their name during their next crack at him. The next player to go deep was the biggest Bomber of them all:
That’s No. 19 of the 2022 season for Aaron Judge, who just continues to pound opposing pitching. Only one other player has even reached 15 (Mookie Betts).
The Yankees drove Ohtani from the mound in the fourth when Aaron Hicks and Trevino began the frame with singles. An RBI double by Marwin Gonzalez off José Quijada made it 4-0, New York, and wrapped Ohtani’s day up with four runs allowed on eight hits and a walk with just two strikeouts and three swings & misses across three innings. To rub salt in the wound, Cortes picked him off first base to snuff out a rally in the fifth, too. Since I personally enjoy watching Ohtani ply his craft on both sides of the ball, I’d normally be bummed for him. Against the Yankees, however? I don’t feel sorry in the slightest. Save it for Houston!
Meanwhile, Cortes rolled on with more shutout ball. He put the Angels away with seemingly absurd ease in the last two frames of his seven-inning gem. Cortes threw just four (!) Pitches in a perfect sixth and seven in the seventh. The lefty’s final line sparkled: five hits, two walks, seven strikeouts, and seven zeros on the scoreboard.
Cortes now has a 1.50 ERA and 2.49 FIP on the season. He’s been masterful and as PSA’s Joe LoGrippo will outline tomorrow morning, he’s improbably on track to have as good a case to start the All-Star Game as any pitcher in the American League. Nestor forever.
The Yankees piled on in the fifth against Angels “27th man” Jhonathan Diaz. Thanks to both talent (a DJ LeMahieu homer) and fortune (a Trevino double-play ball that hit the umpire to go for an infield single, and a dropped fly ball by Ward), the lead expanded to 6-0. Insurance runs like those were much-appreciated later in the ballgame when Clarke Schmidt faltered and Wandy Peralta had to enter with the bases loaded, two outs, and one run already in. Had those fifth-inning runs not been scored, it could’ve been dicier, but instead, a fly ball finished the eighth with a score of 6-1.
The rain really started to come down at the start of the ninth though, and that caused a delay that lasted an hour and a half. It wasn’t clear if the game would be resumed (forget about the second half about the doubleheader), but it cleared up enough for Peralta to return to the mound. Once there, he dismissed the Angels’ last gasp within seven minutes.
The Yankees are now a remarkable 35-15, good for the best record in baseball. The W clinched their 12th series victory on the year in 16 attempts; they’ve only lost two of them (12-2-2). That’s some impressive work for the first two months of 2022.
If the bad weather remains at bay, then the two teams will reconvene in a little while for the planned second game of the doubleheader as the Yankees aim for a sweep. Jameson Taillon is set to face Reid Detmers with first pitch coming at 7:05 pm ET. If rain nixes the nightcap though, the Yankees will next play tomorrow night against the Tigers (same time, same place).