With a piggyback rotation, Nestor Cortes could start the game or finish it on any given day. But regardless of the inning, he's finding a way to still be dominant.
"I think what's kept me honest is my mentality," the Yankees southpaw said. "I know I don't throw the hardest and might not have the best stuff. But when I'm out there, nobody wants it more than me. I have a big heart and I use it every time I'm out there."
With that mind-set, Cortes spun seven three-hit innings with two walks and six strikeouts as Class A Charleston topped West Virginia, 5-1, on Sunday at Appalachian Power Park.
"Seven innings is my career high. So I was anxious going out there for the seventh," he said. "Got in trouble a little bit, but was able to get out of it. I evaluate my start as a solid start. My defense was great behind me. And my catcher, [Austin] Afenir, was great behind the plate. It all led up to a good outing."
Cortes (4-1) was dominant from the start. He didn't allow a hit until Tyler Filliben singled to right field with one out in the fifth inning. The 21-year-old worked around hitting Ryan Nagle in the second and walking him in the fifth.
"I located my fastball well, and often in and out of the plate," he said. "And was able to keep hitters guessing and off balance. That's what made me successful."
Reaching the seventh frame for the first time this season, Cortes allowed a one-out base hit by Logan Hill and a double by Nagle. But the Florida native didn't falter as he struck out Filliben and got Christian Kelley to fly out.
"I allowed a hit to the right side of the field. And then a sun ball to left field. My right fielder, [Alexander Palma], was trying to hang on, but the sun was really beaming 'specially at that time of the day," the 2013 36th-round pick said. "It was a hard ball to stay under. I already had an out with [a] man on second and third. ... I trusted my catcher calling my pitches and was able to get a strikeout and a fly ball to right field."
After starting the campaign in extended spring training, Cortes has bounced between starting and relieving roles due to the RiverDogs' "starter-heavy" rotation. The southpaw has made two starts in a row without a relief appearance for the first time this season.
"It doesn't make a difference to me," the Hialeah, Florida native said. "I just try and compete every time I get the opportunity to prove myself. I can do it as a starter or a reliever, whatever the decision is down the road."
With his second straight win, Cortes lowered his ERA to 0.82 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 11 walks over 43 2/3 innings in nine games -- four starts -- this year. His latest strong outing got him thinking about his dad and namesake.
"Happy Father's Day to all the dads," he said. "I sure gave my dad the gift he deserves."
Two games after tallying his first career three-homer game, RiverDogs slugger Chris Gittens left the yard again. With a solo shot in the fifth, the 22-year-old has six long balls in his last eight contests.
"It's been amazing. Seems like every time he's up to bat, I always say, 'Let's see how far he can hit this one,'" Cortes said. "Especially when you're pitching, you're just hoping he gets the ball in the air with his exit velo off the bat."
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.