Yankees monitoring Nestor Cortes’ innings with eye toward October


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As Nestor Cortes continues to baffle opposing hitters for a second straight season, it’s becoming more and more clear the success of the Yankees lefty is no fluke.

But one thing to keep an eye on as the season progresses, which could slow Cortes down, is something that’s out of his hands.

Cortes, like Jameson Taillon a year ago and Luis Severino this season, is pitching without having built up a lot of innings in recent seasons. The Yankees will have to determine how to best use both Cortes and Severino in order for them to help the team now — and still be able to help them in October.

“It honestly has no weight on my mind right now,’’ Cortes said before the Yankees’ 3-1 loss to the Rays. “I’m ready to go as long as they need me to go.”

Ready and willing? Yes. But those innings take a toll on a pitcher — especially one like Cortes, who has never thrown more than 119 innings in a full professional season.

Nestor Cortes
Getty Images

After another terrific eight-inning outing against the Rays on Thursday, he already has thrown 53 innings.

Unlike a few years ago, when teams placed strict innings limits on their pitchers to prevent them from increasing their innings too much from one season to the next, there are far more measurables that can be used to monitor how they are handling the stress of the season.

“The historical way to do it was just to look at innings totals and go up 20 or 30 percent,” pitching coach Matt Blake said. “That’s not fair to guys because all innings come in different ways with pitch counts and stress.”

These days, teams get a baseline of pitchers’ strengths during spring training that they can look at the rest of the season and back off — or not — when needed.

.“You can look at their body, performance in the weight room and training numbers and then track that as the year goes on,’’ Blake said. “You add subjective and qualitative feedback from the players, who can tell us how they’re feeling physically and mentally and see if there are any trends positive or negative.”

Despite all the added information and technology, it’s likely not feasible for Cortes to jump into the 200-inning range. And Severino, who will start Sunday, has already thrown 41 ²/₃ innings this year — more than he had in the previous three seasons combined.

Blake said they would work throughout the season to make sure their starters’ innings don’t get out of control.

“If they need an extra day [between starts], or skip a turn or lower their pitch count here and there, we can do that,’’ Blake said. “There’s a handful of different ways to monitor the stress and workload without saying ‘We need to avoid getting to 150 [innings],’ with that being an arbitrary number.”

Cortes said he “understands” the discussion and that they will look at his workload, but the lefty is also aware of how well he’s pitching.

“I get the precautions, but I’ve also never been in this position before and if this season keeps being special, I want to see how long I can go,’’ Cortes said. “But I’m open to things because we want to be ready for crunch time.”

Blake echoed that sentiment.

“We want these guys to be ready for October,’’ the pitching coach said. “As nice as it is to be really good this time of year, it’s not what we’re here for. It’s a balance. This division is really competitive and we’ve got to win a lot of games to get [to the postseason], but your eyes are on that part of the year to some extent. You don’t want to run your guys out there and then be short when it matters.”

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