David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - Six years of Luis Severino or two months of David Price?
After what the Yankees witnessed Sunday at Rogers Centre, where Severino was the tough-luck loser despite striking out nine in six innings, they're feeling just fine, thanks, about the decision to promote the 21-year-old prospect. The other option, packaging him in a blockbuster trade before last month's non-waiver deadline, was really no option at all.
Every time Brian Cashman picked up the phone, that's the name the general manager heard above all others. Now we know why.
"He took us out of a number of potential opportunities," Cashman told Newsday after the Yankees' 3-1 loss, "because we tried to do deals."
In this business, GMs are always second-guessing themselves, particularly during mid-August, when a team is trying to hold its playoff position or improve it. With Severino, however, Cashman can sleep well at night regardless of where the Yankees end up this season.
Rather than sell out for a rental ace such as Price or Johnny Cueto, and maybe lose Severino in the process, Cashman retained a very young, controllable, front-of-the-rotation starter.
Two weeks ago, Severino was only a projection, a scout's best guess, a stellar written report with high grades from Triple-A Scranton.
But after three starts, including a major-league debut against the Red Sox at a packed Yankee Stadium and a game against the Blue Jays inside Sunday's open-roof cauldron, we can comfortably say that Severino looks like the real deal. According to the YES stats, he became the youngest Yankee to strike out at least nine in a game since Ray Keating in 1914 against the St. Louis Browns.
So yes, what Severino is doing, at his age, doesn't happen every decade in the Bronx. Or century, for that matter. And if Carlos Beltran, an 18-year vet, hadn't lost Troy Tulowitzki's routine fly ball in the sun, Severino probably would have gone through customs Sunday night with the baseball from his first big-league win. Hypothetically, minus Beltran's gaffe and the RBI hits that unfairly followed, Severino's ERA should be 1.59 rather than 3.18.
Jose Bautista's two-run homer in that Beltran-extended third was the kind of demoralizing blow we point to all the time in detailing the collapse of an inexperienced pitcher. The trigger that can detonate a youngster's fragile confidence with one swing. But not Severino. He righted himself to soldier through three more scoreless innings, relying mostly on his fastball, which maxed Sunday at 98.7 mph, a few ticks higher than his previous ceiling of 97.5, and sat around 95.
"The ball just explodes out of his hand," Brian McCann said. "Against a guy like that, they have to look for one side of the plate, and he locates well."
One talent evaluator who watched Severino noticed that he really didn't have great command of his slider or changeup. Basically, he was containing the Blue Jays, a fastball-mashing team, by leaning heavily on that pitch. All nine of his strikeouts came on fastballs, and he whiffed Edwin Encarnacion three times by throwing 97 right past him.
"I think I'm doing pretty good," Severino said through an interpreter. "I've got to keep working hard so I can do better."
Perhaps the best part about Severino is the thing a team can't teach: the feeling that he belongs here. From the opening pitch he threw that Aug. 5 night against the Red Sox, he never has appeared jumpy or overwhelmed by the moment.
Cashman said that's a characteristic the Yankees picked up on early, and he gave a big shout-out to Donny Rowland, the team's international scouting director, who signed him for $250,000 -- with the Rockies in hot pursuit. So far, the payoff has been huge.
"I'm not saying I expected it," Cashman said. "I just knew that he earned the right and he'd probably be better than anything I would acquire because I wasn't going to a short-term rental that was going to mortgage the future."
And think of it this way: With Severino already in the 2016 rotation, the Yankees could have the money left over to sign Price, too.