Baltimore Orioles: How Buck Showalter Set Up Nestor Cortes Jr. for Failure

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Mike Wright Jr.
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Mike Wright Jr. /

Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. had the tools to be a future starter for the Baltimore Orioles and made the Orioles 25-man roster out of spring training, but the way he was utilized by manager Buck Showalter ultimately set him up for failure.

The Baltimore Orioles designated Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment Tuesday to add Triple-A Norfolk pitcher Yefry Ramirez after Cortes Jr. gave up a grand slam to the Toronto Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson in the top of the 9th inning of Monday’s game which the Orioles lost 10-6.

It was his second grand slam given up this season. The beat writers and most fans are all saying the same thing – it was a necessary move. However, looking at the way Cortes Jr. was utilized and the situations he was put in, it should be clear that it was only necessary because of the way that Buck Showalter mismanaged him.

Cortes Jr. started out as a starter in spring training in competition for the No. 5 starter role that was eventually given to Mike Wright Jr. He was switched to pitching in relief for two games before making a final start against the Phillies on March 25, pitching three innings with a solo HR his lone run given up.

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While not dominant, Cortes Jr. held his own enough during the spring to convince the Orioles to add him to the Orioles 25-man roster, where he would work out of the bullpen as a reliever to start the season.

Seeing as all of his appearances were starting innings clean either as a starter or reliever in Spring Training, a long reliever role seemed to be the best role for Cortes Jr.  Being a long reliever, he could help the Orioles eat some innings in a low leverage situation.  His first appearance was on March 31st in that role when he pitched in relief of starter Andrew Cashner for the 6th and 7th innings, giving up a run on three hits while walking two and striking out two.

However, in his second appearance on April 3rd, he was brought in to relieve fellow Rule 5 pick Pedro Araujo who had loaded the bases with two outs and allowed the Astros to take a 6-5 lead. If that wasn’t bad enough, he would have to face a red-hot Josh Reddick who had already hit a 2-run home run the inning before off of reliever Mychal Givens.

Needless to say, Cortes Jr. had never faced this high leverage situation before in an MLB game, and as a pitcher that relies on pinpoint control, this was not an ideal situation for a Rule 5 rookie that had barely pitched above Double-A, even if he was facing a left-handed hitter.

So it wasn’t exactly a shock that he gave up a grand slam to Reddick that blew the game open. After he gave up the grand slam, however, and the bases were empty, Cortes Jr. got the final out, and then pitched another scoreless inning. In a low leverage situation, he did just fine.

Buck talked about both Rule 5 picks in a post-game interview to The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina:

"“They’ve got to pitch,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the Rule 5 relievers. “We still like them. It’s just a tough situation for them. If we’ve got that sixth inning pitched, we have a little different setup that we could have taken a shot with.”"

Sure they have to pitch, but the manager also has to put them into a spot where they can succeed.  It was fine to give Araujo the chance to keep the game tied, starting off the 7th inning clean, but asking Cortes Jr. to get the Astros’ most dangerous hitter (at the time) out in one of the highest leverage situations you can have was not the right call.

Showalter did put Cortes back in a low leverage situation against the Yankees on April 7 when he pitched a scoreless 8th inning of an 8-3 loss, giving up a hit and walk.

Cortes Jr’s fourth and final appearance with the Orioles occurred Monday night against the Blue Jays in the 9th inning.  Once again, he had to come in in a high leverage situation with the Orioles down 2-1 with two outs and the bases loaded after Givens couldn’t finish the inning.

The first batter he faced was Curtis Granderson who he walked, forcing in a run and then the second was Josh Donaldson who hit a grand slam and blew the game open. Cortes Jr. did eventually get the final out without allowing another run, but the damage had been done.

Givens had already shown that he had trouble earlier in the season with three runs and three walks given up in 4.2 IP before the game to a high leverage situation was not ideal for him either and he’d already pitched a scoreless 8th inning.

Meanwhile, the Orioles had brought up a fresh Hunter Harvey who was scheduled to pitch three innings at Double-A Bowie that evening and could have pitched an inning for the Orioles in the ninth inning and possibly pitched a few more if the Orioles had tied it in the bottom of the inning. Cortes Jr. also could have started the inning clean and pitched multiple innings.

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Instead, he was put in a terrible situation, set up to fail in another high leverage situation just like he was with the Astros. This time, however, it cost him his roster spot.

Between the two grand slams, in low leverage situations, Cortes Jr. had pitched 4 innings giving up a run on six hits with three walks and two strikeouts. He wasn’t dominant, but he was able to limit damage while starting off innings clean.

It’s true the Orioles’ bullpen has been overworked, but Buck Showalter poorly managed both instances where Cortes Jr. gave up the grand slams, choosing to bring him in high leverage situations where he doesn’t belong when either he could have started the inning off clean or another option was available.

Some may say Cortes Jr. losing his roster spot was necessary, but Buck Showalter made it so, and the Orioles who once looked like they had stolen a potential starting pitcher.

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They may wind up offering him back to one of their most hated division rivals, the New York Yankees where he could come back to haunt them for years to come.

Nestor Cortes Jr., and especially Orioles fans deserved a better outcome than that.