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Orioles Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. relishing chance to make final impression Sunday

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

If he had to choose now, Orioles manager Buck Showalter would know what the team would do with Rule 5 left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. as the Opening Day roster deadline looms on Thursday.

But with the benefit of a chance to see him pitch one last time Sunday in the Grapefruit League finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, Showalter will take whatever extra information he can from the outing.

"It doesn't mean you throw out the whole body of work, but you always want to see guys finish strong," Showalter said. "You could ask the same question with [Chris] Tillman, but I know that we're making, in some people's mind, a decision yet on Cortes. If we had to pick right now, we would, but you still take in every look you get and you get until [Thursday] at noon."

Cortes, who last pitched Wednesday at the New York Yankees, will be making his sixth appearance of the spring after pitching his last two times in relief of Miguel Castro, who is also in the fifth starter/swingman mix with him and Mike Wright Jr. A three-run home run by Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was his only blemish that day, leaving Cortes with a 5.02 ERA this spring.

He hopes that in addition to his results, that pitching on three days’ rest will show the team he can bounce back quickly in any situation.

"Maybe they want to see if I can turn it around quick because in the big leagues if I'm a long guy or whatever the case may be, they want to see if I can prove that I can be on short days’ rest and help the team out," Cortes said. "I think that's positive."

He got plenty of practice doing that last year over three levels in the Yankees system. When he wasn't starting, he was used as both a left-on-left specialist and a long reliever, with a varying schedule depending on the team's needs.

"Last year, I went from lefty-lefty situation, having a day off, and relieving three innings, then having four days off and starting six innings," Cortes said. "I'm up for it, honestly. Last year, I felt like I was up to it, then I understood how valuable that piece can be in the bullpen. Whether you're starting or it's lefty-lefty, I found out how valuable it was because we needed it when I was over there in Double-A. It's something that's pretty fun."

Even without a dominant spring results-wise, there seems to be a path for Cortes onto the roster now that the team is going to option new starter Alex Cobb to the minor leagues to get ready for the start of the season. That means the team could keep all of its fifth starter candidates in some form or another.

If he’s competing with the other left-handers battling for a bullpen spot, nonroster relievers Josh Edgin and Joely Rodríguez have made strong cases. Rodríguez threw 10 1/3 innings of one-run ball this spring after 1 2/3 innings of perfect relief Saturday against the Minnesota Twins. Edgin has allowed just four base runners and one run in seven innings.

“He's been solid, you know?” Showalter said of Rodríguez. “I don't want to say a pleasure, but it's been fun to watch him. A nice job adding him. He's had some problems with walks in the past. That hasn't been the case here, and it wasn't the case last spring either, though. I don't know what else a guy can do to impress. He's one of the guys that there's some tough decisions on. Either way, he's going to be with [our organization].”

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