The numbers Dan Cortes put up as a starting pitcher this year at Class AA West Tennessee weren’t all that imposing.
His fastball definitely was daunting, often topping 100 mph, but through 16 starts Cortes was only 5-4 with a 6.08 earned run average.
Last month, the 6-foot-6 right-hander approached his coaches with words the parent Mariners wanted to hear: He’d rather be a reliever.
“The plan was always to get him to the bullpen,” said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners’ minor league director. “But the key was when. We wanted to keep him (in the rotation) and let him repeat his delivery.
“Then he came in and said, ‘I want to be in the bullpen.’ Once a player tells you that, it’s time to move him to the bullpen. But it was kind of our plan all along.”
So far, that plan has been a beautiful thing.
Cortes has a 0.77 ERA in eight relief appearances for the DiamondJaxx, with 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.
“I was there his second outing and it’s almost like he was made for that role,” Grifol said. “We don’t breed closers; they’ll pitch one inning, two or three. But what I saw was a different guy.”
Besides being big, Cortes is a high-intensity presence on the mound who has been backing it up with a blazing fastball. Grifol said his fastball has registered 102 mph on the gun, and he hasn’t thrown one at less than 97 mph yet.
“It’s high velocity, but he’s throwing strikes,” Grifol said. “He’s not commanding it, but controlling it, throwing strikes with all his stuff.
Cortes threw a fastball/curve/changeup combo as a starter, but as a reliever he’s mixing a slider with the fastball and he’s throwing it for strikes.
“He was throwing all four pitches but in the role he’s in, he’s probably going to use two, maybe three,” Grifol said. “The majority of it is going to be, ‘Here, hit my fastball.’ He’s in the right role right now.”