TORONTO — Aside from the series being on the line Thursday night, the Yankees sorely needed Nestor Cortes to get right, especially given the state of their rotation.
The left-hander came through with his best performance in a month.
Cortes gave up just two runs over six-plus innings as he emptied the tank on the way to a 4-2 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
“I always need these outings,” Cortes said with a chuckle. “I feel like head-wise I’m in a good spot. I’ve gotten in trouble past the fifth [inning] a couple times already. Other than that Texas game, I feel like I’ve pitched well all the way to the fifth or sixth and then everything just falls apart. It’s all about trusting what you’ve done already and how you got here. And just trying to execute.”
Cortes was able to do that on Thursday against the Blue Jays’ challenging lineup.
It didn’t start well, as he gave up a solo home run to Bo Bichette in the first inning.
But Cortes settled in from there, allowing just four singles the rest of the way while striking out six.
He then walked his first batter of the night on four pitches to lead off the seventh inning — “I was gassed,” he said — before handing it over to a short bullpen, but he gave the Yankees the length they needed.
Cortes attributed the improvements to a tweak in his mechanics, not flying open as much in his delivery.
“Just overall sharpness and command [was the difference],” manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought he had a presence everywhere in the strike zone, but it started with his fastball.”
The Yankees will have to make do in their bullpen for at least four weeks before Ian Hamilton returns.
That is the approximate timeline for Hamilton, according to Boone, after the reliever underwent an MRI exam on Wednesday for the groin strain he suffered in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays.
“That’s the baseline right now, so we’ll see where we’re at,” Boone said. “I think it’s similar to what he had last year and I think he ended up missing like 21 days or something. I think it might be more than that, but we’ll see.”
Hamilton had worked his way into earning his first career save earlier this month, as one of Boone’s trusted bullpen arms.
Hamilton, Wandy Peralta and Michael King have all recorded saves since Clay Holmes last had a save opportunity on May 1, but the Yankees are expected to continue mixing and matching in the late innings.
“Obviously it’s another opportunity for somebody to step up,” Boone said.
While Nick Ramirez was called up on Wednesday to take Hamilton’s spot in the bullpen, the Yankees are also hoping to get Tommy Kahnle back by the end of this month.
Kahnle, who has been on the injured list since spring training with biceps tendinitis, began his rehab assignment on Thursday night by throwing a perfect inning for Low-A Tampa.
He struck out one and threw 12 pitches.
It was the first of at least four rehab outings that Kahnle will make, with the potential for one or two more if needed. The veteran is eligible to be activated off the 60-day IL on May 29.
Josh Donaldson’s return from a hamstring strain was set back a few days by a mishap at home.
The veteran third baseman recently cut his thumb while putting something together with his daughter, Boone said, which kept him from hitting for a couple of days.
Now, Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring strain) are on similar timelines to begin a rehab assignment soon, though no dates have been set.
The Yankees used an opener for Jhony Brito on Monday, and it worked to near perfection, but as of Thursday they did not plan on using one for his next outing on Saturday against the Reds.
“I wouldn’t rule it out, but especially as much as we’ve had to lean on our relievers, we’ll see what’s available,” Boone said. “Make that call probably the night before based on what we think, but as of now, I don’t plan on doing it.”