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

TAMPA, Fla. — Nestor Cortes officially appears in the clear as far as being in the Yankees' rotation at the start of the season.

The lefthander, who a little over 10 days ago pulled out of the upcoming World Baseball Classic with a right hamstring injury, has thrown off the mound multiple times in the last week with no issues.

Cortes, who was to pitch for Team USA, took an even more significant step Thursday afternoon, throwing a one-inning simulated game at Steinbrenner Field and doing so without feeling anything in the hamstring.

“I feel like in the bullpens and doing flat grounds, you don’t really use your legs as much as you do in a live game,” said Cortes, who faced Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo in his inning, one in which an umpire called balls and strikes. “So I think that was the biggest hurdle for me; going out there and being on a real mound and facing live hitters and they’re going to swing off of you. So you’re going to use your legs a little more and your intensity’s going to be a little higher, so that was more my worry in facing live hitters today.”

Aaron Boone indicated that  any doubts he had about Cortes being ready for the regular season all but dissipated Thursday.

“Really good,” Boone said. “His bullpens have been really sharp [but] his stuff and command (in the simulated game), that’s as sharp as it gets right there. Stuff was good, throwing it where he wanted to. Mixed in a good changeup, which was encouraging to see. But a really good step for him.”

Any worry that Cortes had going into the day was alleviated by how he felt physically — he described himself as “pain-free” — and by the quality of his pitches.

“I thought I was a lot better than I thought I would be, just because it was my first [simulated] game,” Cortes said. “I didn’t know how it was going to react with the intensity and facing those guys. It was a lot better than I expected.”  

Cortes is not completely past the hamstring issue — which on Feb. 13 he said was diagnosed as a “low-level Grade 2” strain — as he has yet to participate in  pitchers’ fielding practice or run at full speed.

Cortes, who over the weekend  estimated he was running at 75 to 80%, said he’s been able to gradually up that percentage.

“Today we tried to push to 90%, and I felt pretty comfortable doing it,” he said. “So hopefully in the next four or five days we can make that better.”

In talking about the injury two days before pitchers and catchers reported to camp, Cortes said he anticipated being down “at least a couple of weeks,” a time frame that obviously has been accelerated.  

The Yankees will continue to be cautious, but Cortes won’t be treated all that differently  from those expected to be in the rotation with him at the start of the regular season (Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino and likely Domingo German).

“We’re treating him as active,” Boone said. “He’s in a good spot. The hamstring keeps responding.”

Cortes is coming off the best season of his career, one in which he went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA and threw a career-high 158 1/3 innings (his previous high was the 93 he threw in 2021). He has told the club that his goal is to surpass his innings total from 2022.

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