At this point, Nestor Cortes doesn’t feel anything extra when he takes the mound at Camden Yards, facing the team that had once chosen him in the Rule 5 Draft — and then returned him in April 2018 to the New York Yankees.
But Cortes remembers how he once felt upon his return to Baltimore, and even how he cherished the opportunity to pitch against the Orioles in his next few outings. There was a chip on his shoulder. And in the years since, the left-hander has shown the Orioles again and again how talented he is.
“The first time here, I wanted to prove something,” Cortes said. “Maybe second time, too.”
So Cortes knows what Franchy Cordero must feel now after powering two home runs against the team that cut him at the end of spring training, even though Cordero played down those feelings following the Yankees’ 5-3 series-clinching win against the Orioles on Sunday.
“I’m sure they [the Orioles] look at the two homers this series and think, ‘Agh,’ you know?’” Cortes said. “I’m glad he’s on this side now and doing it for us.”
Baltimore brought Cordero to Sarasota for spring training as a non-roster invite, and he competed for a backup first base role that never materialized. Despite an impressive spring in which he clubbed two homers and hit .413 in 18 games, Cordero didn’t make the opening day roster. He was granted his release. One day later, he joined New York.
And one week into the regular season, Cordero met his former team at Camden Yards, wearing the road grey of the Yankees. He ingratiated himself immediately to those New York fans and might’ve left Baltimore’s front office ruing a late-camp decision to let Cordero leave — especially to an American League East foe.
Cordero received two starts during this weekend series against his former club, and he clobbered home runs in each of them, including Sunday’s two-run blast. In the home opener Friday, Cordero crushed a three-run bomb.
“I’m sure it’s a little weird, you know?” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You spend six, seven weeks with a team and get all the way to the end, and then all of a sudden you’re playing against them. So I’m sure that’s a little bit of a weird feeling. But I’m sure, any time — whether you understand the situation or not — any time you can have success against an old team, I’m sure that’s always satisfying.”
His second homer in his last two starts came on the same day the Orioles opted to option outfielder Kyle Stowers to Triple-A Norfolk. Stowers had received just four at-bats to begin the season, and manager Brandon Hyde said regular playing time was a larger priority for the prospect.
Cordero, meanwhile, competed with Stowers for one of the final roster spots. Given Cordero’s ability to play in the corner outfield and at first base, he has more defensive versatility to go along with his left-handed bat, even if Stowers is the more capable defender in the outfield.
It’s not a one-to-one comparison; Stowers was already on the 40-man roster and Cordero wasn’t. But given the fact Baltimore appeared unable to give Stowers everyday playing time, a bench bat of Cordero’s quality, in hindsight, is enticing.
“I feel like I was having a really good camp,” Cordero said through a team interpreter. “I felt like I had a really good chances of making the team with Baltimore. But unfortunately, things like that happen, and sometimes teams are looking into the necessity of what they need, and I can tell you I’m very happy I’m with the Yankees right now.”
Cordero said he opted to pursue the opt-out clause in his contract once he learned he wouldn’t make the opening day roster in Baltimore. And while Boone said Cordero wasn’t on New York’s radar long, the Yankees began paying close attention to him when they learned he might have an out in his deal.
“It was a product of a young player with a lot of talent with a lot of upside still,” Boone said, “and us kind of having a need and wanting to keep some depth going, especially early in the season. He certainly not only has fit that mold, but he’s come in and produced right away.”
The 28-year-old Cordero has just 14 at-bats this season but has already driven in seven runs. And dating back to last season with the Boston Red Sox, Cordero has homered in four of his last five games against the Orioles.
Cordero wasn’t alone, of course, in crafting the Yankees’ series-closing win. Aaron Judge hit his 20th and 21st homers, respectively, at Camden Yards — his most in any visiting ballpark. He now has 37 career homers against Baltimore, his most against any team.
The first of those blasts Sunday came against right-hander Tyler Wells, who became only the second Orioles starter to record an out in the sixth inning of a game this season.
He didn’t replicate the magic of his last appearance, when he entered as an emergency reliever following Kyle Bradish’s foot injury and pitched five no-hit innings. But it still was one of the most stable performances from a starter thus far, completing six innings with four runs against him.
Adley Rutschman’s three hits against Cortes were the lone damage against the Yankees hurler until Ryan Mountcastle’s sixth-inning double chased Cortes. And against right-hander Albert Abreu, Anthony Santander’s first-pitch double plated two — finally breaking Cortes’ shutout streak after keeping Baltimore scoreless in 18 1/3 innings last year.
Rutschman also cranked a solo homer to lead off the eighth inning to cap a 4-for-4 performance. He’s the first Orioles player with multiple four-plus hit games in his team’s first nine games, according to MLB.com.
“It’s pretty fun to watch a young player in his first full year do what he’s doing,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.
But the two-run deficit to conclude the second series loss against an American League East rival to begin the year came in the form of Cordero, a player the Orioles had and let walk.
“Give Franchy credit,” Hyde said. “Had a great spring for us; hit the ball well. And put two good swings on balls that weren’t located very well.”