David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - One way to cover up for the loss of Andrew Miller is to flush games before they ever get to his replacement. We're pretty confident Dellin Betances and his 0.28 ERA will be awesome in that role once he's finally handed the ball in the ninth inning, but after two ugly losses to the Orioles, the Yankees can only imagine what such a scenario would be like.
The newly recalled Chris Martin, fresh off the bus from Scranton, rifled three -- yes, three -- wild pitches Saturday night that helped the Orioles embarrass him further by snapping a 4-4 tie with a three-run sixth inning. The newly signed Sergio Santos, cut loose by the Dodgers, teed up a home run to pinch hitter David Lough on the second pitch of his Yankees career and followed up with an RBI double by Steve Pearce to cap off the 9-4 defeat.
Sounds bad, and looked worse. For all the bullpen reshuffling, and the Yankees have now used 13 relievers through the first 61 games, the bridge to the ninth inning is in shambles. Or the seventh and eighth, for that matter. Miller would have been a spectator at these games, anyway.
Brian Cashman has been busy supplying reinforcements, but the most intriguing possibility remains in the RailRiders' rotation. And Cashman told Newsday he does not expect to summon top prospect Luis Severino for relief duty any time soon.
"Can that happen? I wouldn't rule it out," Cashman said. "But it's not something we're talking about right now. I'm not opposed to it. It's just right now, I think we have some other people legitimately before him for the bullpen category."
Martin and Santos didn't inspire much confidence Saturday night. The Yankees like to talk about Ramirez throwing 98 mph, but in his previous visit, he pitched one inning and gave up four runs. Last season, Ramirez allowed 11 hits, seven walks and two homers in 10 innings with 10 strikeouts.
Call Severino the Joba Option, a throwback to 2007, when Joba Chamberlain, initially groomed to be a starter, was summoned to the majors and became an instant phenomenon in the Bronx. There are a few similarities here, too.
Severino, like Chamberlain at that time, is 21 years old with an electric fastball. He's also made three starts at Triple-A Scranton -- Joba had three relief appearances -- where Severino has a 2.70 ERA with eight strikeouts in 162 2/3 innings.
Compare that with Chamberlain's 18 Ks in only eight relief innings for Scranton, and Joba shaped up to be a more explosive arm to unleash against major-league competition. The Yankees seem content to let Severino gain more experience at the Triple-A level, with Cashman saying there is the possibility of calling him up at a later date if they need someone for the rotation.
Overall, Severino has made 57 starts in the minors over four years, with a 2.41 ERA and an average of 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. It's not unusual for teams to promote their elite pitching prospect to shore up the bullpen -- the Cardinals did it brilliantly with Adam Wainwright in 2006 before Chamberlain followed the next season.
As Cashman mentioned, the Yankees are flexible when it comes to that, despite the controversy about Chamberlain's role when he yo-yo'ed between the bullpen and rotation in those early years. The benefit for Severino would be to get a taste of the majors, and ideally some success at this level, even if there was no room in the rotation.
"It doesn't matter to me," Cashman said. "If they're the best option to help us, whether they're a starter, and the best option for the pen, then I'm open to any of that stuff."
And with Miller out for at least the next month, Cashman is going to need to keep his options open. Whatever he comes up with won't be as effective as the Betances-Miller combo, and the Yankees could end up going through plenty more arms before his return.
Until the GM has to think twice about Severino again.