MINNEAPOLIS – Your turn, Luis Severino.
Aaron Boone announced last week that the Yankees’ starter for the wild-card game it’s assumed they’ll play Oct. 3 is very much up in the air. Since then, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ produced stellar outings.
Severino, pitching on six days’ rest, gets his chance to make an impression Wednesday night against the Twins.
“They’re all significant now,” Boone said Tuesday. “Obviously, we want to get Sevy going like he’s capable of. Hopeful tomorrow can be the start of that.”
That it’s even a question of who would start a wild-card game for the Yankees, who entered Tuesday three games ahead of the A’s for the first wild card, is not something anyone would have considered at the halfway point of the year.
Severino is 17-7 but has the highest ERA he’s had all season (3.52), and he's coming off an outing in Oakland last Wednesday in which he lasted a season-low 2 1/3 innings. He endured a four-run first in which he and Gary Sanchez made a mess of things with two passed balls and two wild pitches.
After that game, Boone was asked if he’d be comfortable starting a Severino/Sanchez battery in a one-and-done game. "We have a few weeks for that kind of stuff to unfold and see where we’re at, and we’ll make those decisions as we go,” Boone said. “But do I know those two are capable of going out and shoving? Absolutely.”
It has been some time since Severino has shoved. After throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox July 1, which improved him to 13-2 with a 1.98 ERA 18 starts into his season, he’s gone 4-5 with a 6.83 ERA in 11 starts. Severino has allowed 13 homers in that stretch, compared to the six he allowed over the first 18 starts.
“I need to do a better job,” Severino said after allowing six runs (five earned) and six hits to the A's. “Right now I’m not at my best. I need to perform like I was in the first half.”
He went 2-4 with a 7.50 ERA in seven games from July 7-Aug. 13, but did show signs of a turnaround in his next three starts — 3.78 ERA and 26 strikeouts compared to four walks. But last Wednesday was a significant setback, particularly as the Yankees try to settle on who would give them the best chance in a wild-card game.
“We felt like he was starting to build a little bit of momentum and then had a tough start out in Oakland,” Boone said. “Really excited about his bullpen the other day. Larry [Rothschild] felt like he was really sharp. So hopefully he can build on that.”
As of now, the primary contenders to start a wild-card game are Tanaka, Happ and Severino.
As good as Happ has been since being acquired before the trade deadline – the lefthander pitched six scoreless innings Monday to improve to 6-0 with a 2.70 ERA in eight starts as a Yankee – it’s Tanaka who really has stepped up. The righthander, considered the Yankees’ ace until Severino wrested that status from him last year, is 11-5 with a 3.61 ERA. He’s been exceptional since the All-Star break, going 4-3 with a 2.30 ERA in nine starts.
But his performances and Happ's don’t mitigate the importance of Severino righting himself.
“If we can get him rolling and get him right, obviously he’s kind of a game-changer,” Boone said. "He’s a guy that we can match up with anybody in the sport when he’s going well.”