Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes throws a bullpen session during day...

Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes throws a bullpen session during day three of spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Fiield in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 17. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

JUPITER, Fla. — Nasty Nestor is back.

Diving-into-first-base Nestor can wait until the regular season.

All-Star lefthander Nestor Cortes struck out seven in four shutout innings in his second start of spring training on Thursday as the Yankees tied the Cardinals, 1-1, at Roger Dean Stadium.

Cortes’ spring training was delayed because of a strained right hamstring, but he is on track to pitch during the first turn of the Yankees’ regular-season rotation.

“He was in command today,” manager Aaron Boone said.

Cortes allowed two hits and didn’t walk a batter. Of his 66 pitches, 47 were strikes. He even dropped down a few times and threw sidearm, something he didn’t feel comfortable doing in his first outing.

The one thing Cortes did not do was add to the Legend of Nestor by diving with the baseball into first base to record an out, as he did last April 23 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees told Cortes to take it easy on plays at first base, and his natural competitiveness was tested when Lars Nootbaar hit a grounder to the right side.

Cortes started toward first base with what Boone called “a controlled gait.” Anthony Rizzo had to take the ball himself to retire the speedy Nootbaar to end the inning. Cortes got a ribbing as he walked back to the third-base dugout.

“I would pass up [diving] today,” Cortes said. “March [23], I would pass it up. But come first week of April, I’m sure I’ll be able to do it.”

What's important to the Yankees is how Cortes looks on the mound — not coming off it — and all signs on Thursday were positive against a Cardinals lineup that included many regulars.

“It was encouraging,” Cortes said. “I felt like the velo was consistent throughout the whole outing and I was hitting my spots real well . . . I think now it’s just getting to [optimum] pitch count and being strong through the third time around, or the fifth and sixth inning. That's going to be the next hurdle for the next outing.”

Cortes’ next outing could be Tuesday when the Yankees face the Nationals in the finale of the  exhibition season in Washington. Boone said he is “leaning” that way.

Opening Day is Thursday. As good as he felt, Cortes should be able to slot in for the fifth game of the season

“Really, it's been in line with we've seen from him all spring, even when he was initially coming back from the hamstring,” Boone said. “He was really sharp today. The stuff was really good. Popped a 94 [mph fastball]  in there. I thought his command and his mix, he was in command today. It's always good to see him that sharp. A good day's work, building that volume. It was crisp, it was sharp. He was throwing the ball where and how he wanted to.”

TheYankees also got some good news from Tampa, where lefthander Carlos Rodon threw 15 fastballs in his first bullpen session since he was shut down with a forearm strain. Rodon, who signed a six-year, $162 million free-agent contract, hopes to make his Yankees debut before the end of April.

Opening Day starter Gerrit Cole will make his final spring training start on Friday against Minnesota. Domingo German will pitch in a minor-league game.

When the season opens, Cole, Luis Severino, Clarke Schmidt, German and Cortes will round out the rotation until Rodon returns.  

After the opener, the Yankees have an off day and then play six days in a row until their next off day, so Boone can play around with the rotation order a little if he chooses.

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