David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Strip away the 96-mph four-seam fastball, the 91-mph slider, the 88-mph power changeup, and what's left of Luis Severino is the most valuable weapon the new Yankee showcased Wednesday night against the Red Sox: the one between his broad shoulders.
Severino walked off the mound a loser, but had zero doubt in his own mind that he belonged there -- and also convinced the Yankees, whose rare power outage reduced them to little more than spectators in a 2-1 loss. As soon as it was over, Severino was asked if could be successful in the majors, and he didn't hesitate before answering through an interpreter.
"Of course," Severino said.
A few years ago, that would have been David Price or Cole Hamels pitching against the Red Sox. Instead, it was Severino, who is now being called on to play the role of ace-for-hire, in the middle of a playoff hunt, without the chance to learn as an understudy first.
At 21 years, 166 days, Severino was the youngest pitcher to make a start in the majors this season. And few rookies, at any age, are thrust onto the stage he was Wednesday night -- in front of 47,489 fans, against the Yankees' bitter rival, perhaps unfairly saddled with the immediate task of stabilizing a wobbly rotation.
Process all of that before picking apart the box score, which doesn't come close to telling the whole story. Five innings was on the short side, but not uncommon for a youngster's debut, when harnessing the adrenaline rush can be as difficult as correctly locating a 2-and-0 fastball. In the fourth inning, Severino missed badly in that exact situation to David Ortiz, who hammered the 96-mph pitch roughly 20 rows deep into the second section of bleachers in right-centerfield.
In that sense, Severino was like any number of Yankee pitchers through the years to be abused by Big Papi. There was no shame in that. More importantly, Severino kept dusting himself off after hitting those occasional potholes, which included a Yankee-made obstacle in the second inning when Chase Headley threw away a routine grounder for a two-base error.
It should have been the third out. But with the inning extended, and Mike Napoli standing at second, De Aza ripped a 1-and-1 cut-fastball for an RBI double. Severino could have unraveled after that cruel twist, but recovered to strike out Blake Swihart. Later, he would do the same to Hanley Ramirez after the Ortiz blast, and retired six straight to keep the Yankees within 2-0 after his five innings.
If that pitching line was delivered by any other member of the starting rotation, and the not the Yankees' highly-anticipated prodigy, it would have been happily received. But without the usual eight or nine runs of the past week, and the bullpen primed to shut things down, Severino was left alone to wear this one Wednesday night. His only crime, if any, was not sticking around a little bit longer. Girardi had him on a 100-pitch leash, and he got to 94 by the end of fifth. That brought the curtain down prematurely.
"Usually what separates guys up here is the mental side," said Headley, who didn't do him any favors. "He looked comfortable, and that's a good sign."
There's room to grow, and Severino certainly will be more efficient in his next start, after the butterflies have been shooed away. He averaged 5.2 pitches per plate appearance against the Red Sox -- the American League average is 3.8 -- and that eventually sapped his energy.
The Yankees probably would have squeezed a few more professional innings from a Price or Hamels Wednesday night. But what they got from Severino was more satisfying, across the organizational spectrum.
"When you trade for someone, or bring someone up this time of year, they can really swing the needle," Headley said. "So we're glad to have him."