Cortes retires six of seven batters in spring debut (O’s, Twins tie)

SARASOTA, Fla. - Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. came as advertised tonight in his first spring start. Didn’t throw hard, but worked quickly and changed speeds and his arm angle to keep the Twins off balance.

Cortes duplicated Mike Wright Jr.’s outing yesterday by allowing one run and one hit over two innings. Cortes retired six of seven batters and threw 16 of 23 pitches for strikes.

The Twins lead the Orioles 1-0 in the top of the third inning. Alec Asher replaced Cortes and struck out the first two batters he faced.

ed smith stadium.jpgThe stadium radar gun clocked two of Cortes’ pitches at 71 and 72 mph in the first inning, producing a bouncer to shortstop Manny Machado and lazy fly ball to left fielder Trey Mancini. Cortes threw seven of his 11 pitches for strikes while retiring the side in order, also getting leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman on a bouncer to Machado.

Cortes’ fastball was 88-89 mph. He isn’t going to blow the ball past anyone, but he still gets outs.

I’m pretty sure a pitch in the second inning was clocked at 67 mph, which Kennys Vargas pulled down the left field line for a leadoff double. Fly balls to left field by Brock Stassi and Gregorio Petit allowed Vargas to score.

Zack Granite grounded to first baseman Mark Trumbo, the only ball off Cortes hit to the right side.

Machado doubled into the gap in left-center field off Twins starter Adalberto Mejía with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, but Adam Jones flied to center. Mancini drew a leadoff walk in the second and Trumbo reached on an infield hit, but Craig Gentry grounded into a 6-3 double play and Joey Rickard grounded out.

Tim Beckham still hasn’t fielded a ball this spring beyond the back fields.

The Orioles are 0-2 following today’s 9-6 loss to the Phillies in Clearwater. Audry Perez homered off former Orioles farmhand Pedro Beato in the ninth inning. Anthony Santander was 2-for-4 with an RBI and stolen base.

DJ Stewart and Luis Sardiñas also had two hits, the latter driving in a run.

Update: Asher tossed two scoreless innings with one hit allowed and four strikeouts.

Cortes met with the media outside the clubhouse. Here’s a sampling:

On whether outing pleased him: “Yes, I think I attacked the strike zone real well, commanded all my pitches. Just one mistake pitch left out over the plate, good contact. That was it.”

On whether he was amped up: “I was kind of nervous to be honest. Warming up in the outfield, I’ve got a few family members out there, first spring training game they’ve come to see me play. But definitely got into the environment and went out there and performed.”

On what camp’s been like: “I don’t try to think about it too much. I just try to go out there and pitch and do what I know to do. Just keep that away and try to pitch and make pitches.”

On whether hitters will try to pull the ball: “I mean, yeah, I guess. I don’t know what they’ll be doing off me, but I’m definitely a fly ball, groundball guy. I might get my strikeouts in, but weak contact is what I look for.”

On having three Rule 5 pitchers in camp: “It is an unusual situation. There’s three guys fighting for a spot or a couple of spots. I just wish them the best and whoever performs the best may have the job. That’s what we are looking for, a good competition.”

On what he was throwing at 67, 71 and 72 mph: “Those are the sliders. They usually go down low. Much lower than that, honesty. I think 67 was a sidearm slider I threw. It might go lower.”

On what’s lowest speed he’s been clocked: “Forty-seven, actually. Sidearm slider.”

On whether batter swung twice at 47: “He did fall over, he did fall over, but no, just one swing.”

Update II: Austin Wynns homered with one out in the seventh inning to tie the game 1-1.

Update III: The Orioles were unable to capitalize on late opportunities and the game ends in a 1-1 tie.

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