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Nestor Cortes talks silencing doubters, success and sustainability

Back on April 14, just after Nestor Cortes threw seven innings of two-run ball against the Twins, the pitcher fielded a question about his high level of consistency since forcing his way into the Yankees’ rotation in 2021.

Cortes, once a 36th-round pick and Rule 5 Draft returnee on his third stint with the Yankees, used the query to make a point.

“The big question for me from everybody else has been, ‘Can he continue to do it?’” Cortes replied. “So I’m out there proving myself that I can and not allowing the noise to dictate who I am or who I can be.”

A follow-up wondered if those doubters annoy Cortes, who recorded a 6.72 ERA over the first three seasons of his major league career from 2018-2020. That mark sits at 2.70 since 2021.

“I don’t blame ‘em,” Cortes continued. “I know those first three years were tough, but I think it’s about time that people start turning that corner, just like I have.”

Cortes’ comments recently sparked a conversation with the Daily News. Below, the southpaw discussed why he still pays attention to naysayers, how he manages the success he’s had, and why he believes what he’s doing is sustainable for years to come.

(The following has been edited for clarity and length)

DAILY NEWS: You recently mentioned “the noise” in a postgame interview. Do you still see and hear people doubting you?

NESTOR CORTES: Everybody hears the noise, no matter if you’re a one-year player or a 10-year player. We always see what’s going on, who talks bad about us, and who doesn’t.

DN: But you brought up people doubting you specifically, and critics thinking your recent success is a fluke. Those are things you still see?

NC: Yeah, for sure. There’s a place and a time for everybody. Everybody uses social media however they want, and sometimes they bash us or put us on a pedestal. So I see both sides of it. I’ve heard it so long, it’s just engraved in my head now.

DN: Why pay attention to that when you’ve had the recent stretch that you’ve had?

NC: We’re human. A lot of people don’t understand what we go through on a daily basis here. I feel like, to the fans — and I’ve been there before — they think we’re robots, and we’re not. We’re human beings that make mistakes and go through stuff in life, just like anybody else in the world. Just because we have a uniform on and we’re professional baseball players, it doesn’t mean we’re going to be our best at all times.

DN: Do you find that stuff bothersome, or are you able to look past it now?

NC: At times. Maybe it’s comments here and there that can get to us. But for the most part, I try and let it go. They’ve always said don’t let social media get to you, but again, we’re human beings. We’re gonna go dig some stuff up here and there and see what people are thinking about us.

DN: Are the doubters ever motivational?

NC: For sure. Always prove people wrong. Always show everybody that what they’re saying is not correct, and just try and be the best you can.

DN: Is it easier to ignore negativity now than it was the first three years of your career?

NC: When you have some success and you start gaining confidence, it helps you forget about all those things. My first three years, I had very little success. So it was hard to get that confidence or get that mentality where I forget about everybody else. Now, having success and doing it over and over and over again, it’s like, “OK, maybe I can sustain this level for a long time.” And that’s what helps me forget about the noise.

DN: Does that success also give you the confidence to state what you did a few starts ago, when you basically said it’s time for everyone to stop doubting you?

NC: Yeah, I mean, I’m not gonna say that if I still have a 6.00 ERA and I’m not pitching well. But what I said that day was pretty valid to who I am.

DN: Kyle Higashioka said the biggest difference between recent you and early-career you is your confidence…

NC: I can agree to that.

DN: So now that you have reasons to be confident, do you ever find yourself saying don’t get too big-headed? How do you balance that?

NC: I wouldn’t say too big-headed. Confidence, whether you’re in a good stretch or a bad stretch, is always good. I always try and be the same guy every single day, no matter how good I’m doing, no matter how bad I’m doing. But big-headed is not really in my…

DN: What I mean is that, confidence-wise, you were on one end of the spectrum. Now you’re the other end, but there could also be negative consequences if you’re confidence gets too inflated. So how do you manage that?

NC: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I don’t know, they preach here, “Just stay neutral,” and that’s something that’s worked for me.

DN: They being players in the clubhouse? Coaches? The culture?

NC: Yeah, as an organization. The culture. Just stay neutral. Don’t ever let the moment get too big for you, but don’t let the moment get too small, you know? Stay within yourself and try and battle out every day, because there’s highs and lows in this game, as everybody knows. So it’s always good to stay level-headed.

DN: Is there anything besides confidence that’s different about you since 2021 compared to the first few years of your career?

NC: Those first three years, when you put it all together, it was probably half a year. Because 2018, I was up for 4.2 innings, two weeks. In 2019, I was up and down, up for the most part. Threw 66.2 innings there. And then the COVID season, obviously, was cut short. When you throw those years into one season, it’s not even a full season.

DN: Your success is just a product of opportunity?

NC: Yeah, yeah. And I think the fact that I’m understanding more — my pitch package, how to get outs, how to go a third time through a lineup — there’s different factors that go into what I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years… Knowing and understanding different situations and ways to get ready before you go out there. My first three years, I didn’t have a routine. I was a reliever.

DN: You couldn’t have one in 2019…

NC: I couldn’t. I would get sent down, and get sent back up, and I was trying to create the routine, but I couldn’t because there was no consistency. And now it’s like, “OK, what do I have to do in between my starts to get ready for that fifth day?” So that’s helped me out.

DN: When did you develop a starting routine?

NC: I wouldn’t say until last year.

DN: Who showed you that?

NC: The group of guys we had last year was incredible. You go up and down, starting from Gerrit [Cole] to [Luis Severino] to [Jameson Taillon] to [Jordan Montgomery].

DN: Your routine came from watching them, or picking their brains?

NC: A little bit of both. I remember last year, a bunch of times in the dugout, I would catch myself next to Jamo or next to Monty or next to Gerrit and talking about “Hey, what do you think?” For example, if Monty was up on the mound that day and me and Jamo were right next to each other, we’d have conversations like, “What do you think he’s going to throw here?”

Also, a big factor was trying to stay healthy and trying to stay with the routine to potentially have 30 starts. Ten, 12, 15 starts, over the course of a year, is not that many. Once you get over that 25 range, it’s like…

DN: Now you’ve built a sample size.

NC: Exactly.

DN: Those guys had to be picking your brain last year, too, right? Because you do things they can’t…

NC: Towards the middle and the end, they were talking to me more about, “Hey, what do you think about this? What do you think about that?” Because now it’s like I have 12, 15 starts under my belt, so they can relate a little more.

DN: Was that weird for you, going from trying to hang on to sharing insights with someone like Cole?

NC: For sure. I was like, “Why is Gerrit picking my brain? This guy knows everything in the world!” That’s what makes him special.

DN: Last one, and I’ll let you go. But do you ever worry about your success fading, or that you’ll struggle like you once did?

NC: Honestly, what I’m doing right now feels pretty sustainable for me. Now, am I going to pitch to a 2.40 ERA every year? No, probably not. But am I gonna be competing for that and in the range and at striking distance? Probably. Like I said, I understand how to do my stuff in here to get ready to be out there, and then once I’m out there, I’ve learned how to navigate and distinguish different lineups and different swings because now I have 300 innings instead of 70.

I’m not going to stand here and say I’m gonna be good for seven more years, but obviously, that’s the goal. And I think what I’m doing now, I can keep it up to some level.


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