Cortes has seen it all in young career

// Pitcher back with Rainiers after stints with Mariners

RHP Dan Cortes was traded to the Mariners’ organization from Kansas City for Yuniesky Betancourt in July 2009.  He appeared in nine games last season for the Rainiers after spending the last half of 2009 and the first half of 2010 with Double A West Tennessee. After helping Tacoma win the Pacific Coast League championship in 2010, he spent the last two weeks of the season with the Mariners, appearing in four games out of the bullpen. He also had a brief call-up to Seattle earlier this season. Tacoma Weekly baseball correspondent Karen Westeen talked to Cortes recently about his career and how he learned to throw a baseball 100 miles per hour.

TW: You were drafted right out of Garey High School in Pomona, Calif., at 18. Did you think at all about going to college?

DC:  I had a scholarship to San Diego State, but when I was drafted I wanted to sign to help out my family.

TW: The White Sox took you in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. Were you expecting them to draft you?

DC: Actually no, I was waiting for a call from the Braves, but there were no calls, so I thought I wouldn’t get drafted.

TW: When the call came that they had picked you what was that like?

DC: My family and friends, everyone, we were all excited.

TW: You’re still a young guy, just 24 years old, but you’ve been playing professionally for seven seasons, because you signed and got to play the summer you were drafted. Where did you play that summer?

DC: With Bristol, Va., in the rookie Appalachian League.

TW: What was it like going all the way across the country, from Pomona, California, to Bristol?

DC:  It was a lot different than living in Southern California. It’s not so fast-paced, just NASCAR and the great outdoors.

TW: You started out your second season in Single A, but half way through the season you were traded to Kansas City. Did you expect that?

DC:  No. I got to the park from the hotel and was getting ready for the game when the manager told me to put my street clothes back on and come to his office.  I was like “what did I do?”  He told me he had good news and bad news, which did I want first, so I said the bad news. He said I wasn’t going to be with the team and I wondered if I had been released, promoted, or demoted. But since I was the best starter on the team, I thought I was probably being called up. Then he told me I just got traded to the Royals for a big leaguer (Mike MacDougal). I was like “No way Jose.” He said “This is great for your career.”  The next day I got flown to Burlington, Iowa, in the low A Midwest League and started the whole process over. It was great.

TW: You spent almost three full seasons with the Kansas City organization. In 2008 you were with Double A Northwest Arkansas, and helped them win the second half Texas League title. You also put up the best numbers of your career to date, going 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA, and earned the Paul Splittorf Pitcher of the Year award as the best pitcher in the Royals’ organization, and were named to the All Star team. Did you play?

DC: No, because I was scheduled to start shortly after the All Star game. Then they tied the game and needed someone to come in. I said I could do it but the organization wouldn’t let me go in. It was cool to be there (even though) I didn’t get to play.

TW: In 2009 you started the season with NW Arkansas, then got traded again to Seattle in July and went to West Tennessee for the rest of the year. You started out 2010 there before finally getting called up to Triple A in August, and then making your Major League debut with Seattle. Talk about all that happened in those two months at the end of the season.

DC: The Double A pitching coach called me in and said I’d gotten called up to Triple A. Making the run to the PCL championship I felt like I was in Little League again, because we did (something similar) when I was a little kid. Then I got called up to the Mariners right after Memphis and did not go to Oklahoma City to play for the Triple A championship. I was supposed to close out the final game in Memphis, but got called in for the “ bad news, good news” again. I found out I had just gotten called up to Seattle, and I said “No way.” When I thanked the Rainiers it was the most emotional I’ve ever been.

TW: You made your debut with the Mariners September 24 at Tampa Bay. What was that like?

DC: I don’t remember who the first batter was that I faced. I was so in awe and anxious to get into the game that my mind wasn’t on the details. I usually get stretched out by the seventh inning, but I didn’t know what my role in the bullpen would be, so I wasn’t ready when the call came that I would be pitching the sixth inning. My routine is usually to take a couple of jogs, then stretch out. (When I started warming up) I threw three balls over the catcher’s head in the bullpen and a couple almost hit the third base coach. I was afraid I would walk the first four batters I faced. But I got my game face on and jogged to the mound, thinking “All right, I’m here, get these guys out.” I looked at the crowd and drew energy from that. (Mariners’ closer) David Aardsma told me I’d be successful by throwing strike one and my first pitch was a strike. That batter hit a grounder to second and then I struck out Kelly Shoppach. I remember thinking “No way. I just got my first major league strike out, looking.” The next batter got 98, 99 mph pitches, hit a grounder again and I covered first so I got to keep the ball. I was like, I totally did this. It was cool.

TW: You mention throwing pitches of 98 and 99 mph. How did you learn to do that?

DC: Early in 2008 my muscles were tight from all the off season exercises I do, and my internal  rotation wasn’t working in my shoulder so I sat out for a month to let it recover. I was really frustrated because I wasn’t injured, but then I came back and started throwing harder and faster. I have no problems at all now throwing that fast all the time. I condition my body to not be tired and avoid injury.

TW: You were a starter all of your career until last season. Why did you change over to being a reliever?

DC: Last year was frustrating because I couldn’t find the strike zone and I had been in Double A for three years.  I felt I needed something that would help me get to the Major Leagues and I thought it might help me to get back my pinpoint accuracy and consistency by going to the bullpen. I told my pitching coach at AA and he helped me become a reliever. I have faith that my hard work will get me to the big leagues (permanently.)

TW: Do you use the same outpitch as a reliever that you did when you were a starter?

DC: My outpitch is situational. Sometimes it’s my fastball, sometimes the curveball. If you’re a back end of the bullpen guy every pitch has to be a strike out pitch.

TW: Has your family been up here yet?

DC: The first time they saw me play professionally was in April in Fresno, about a three hour drive from Pomona. I was so happy mom and dad and my brother and sisters could make it. My girlfriend lives in Tennessee and she saw me win the PCL championship in Memphis last year.

TW: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

DC: Winning the PCL championship and getting the call up to the Mariners within such a short time.

TW: What do you see yourself doing after your long and successful career is finished?

DC:  Well I want to play until I’m 50, and then I’d like to continue to have something to do with baseball. Maybe coach kids, or share my knowledge about physical training and nutrition.

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