Joe Girardi called it an important step in Luis Severino’s development and dropped a certain “A” word in describing it.
“I think it’s (dealing with) the expectations that people are now placing on you,” Girardi said Wednesday. “You’ve been an All-Star, you’ve kind of been the ace of the staff and how (do) you handle it. To me, that’s the next step. So far he’s handled it extremely well.”
The 23-year-old righthander continued his torrid second half, making it three straight brilliant outings and looking very much like an ace. Severino threw six shutout innings before allowing two unearned runs in the seventh in a 9-5 victory over the Reds at the Stadium.
“He’s electric,” CC Sabathia said of Severino, who gave up only three hits in seven innings and improved to 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA. He struck out nine and walked two as he moved to 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break. He led the Yankees (53-46) to their third straight victory and fifth in six games, and they remained a game behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.
Not bad for a club that just last week was at the tail end of a 10-22 stretch.
And now the Rays, 1 1⁄2 games behind the Yankees in the division, come to town Thursday for four games.
“It’s an important series, really important,” Girardi said. “We still have 63 games to go, but these are all important games, especially when they’re within your division and you’re all close and trying to continue to gain on the Red Sox.”
Severino won’t pitch in the series, but the Yankees have to feel confident regardless, because an offense that started the second half slowly has started to crank it up. The Yankees had 12 hits, two each by Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, Todd Frazier and Ronald Torreyes.
Didi Gregorius homered for a third straight game, a career first for the shortstop, who despite missing the season’s first month has 16 home runs. Todd Frazier hit his 17th homer and his first as a Yankee. Clint Frazier, getting the start in rightfield as Aaron Judge had the day off, had a pair of two-out singles in the third and fifth innings to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Severino’s changeup has just about joined his fastball and slider as a plus pitch. He had the Reds (41-60) overmatched for six innings, recording eight strikeouts. He abandoned his changeup last spring and lost his rotation spot in mid-May. He entered the day fifth in the AL with 136 strikeouts.
“I had a lot of problems last year with my changeup,” Severino said. “I have a lot of confidence in it and will throw it in any count. Last year my confidence wasn’t there, so I wasn’t throwing it. How was it going to get better if I didn’t throw it? So in the offseason I threw it a lot and got it back.”
Gregorius’ error to start the seventh led to two runs that made it 4-2 after the Yankees scored two unearned runs of their own in the sixth. Gregorius and Todd Frazier went deep in a five-run seventh that blew it open. Luis Cessa allowed a three-run homer in the eighth to the Reds’ Adam Duvall.
“Just very exciting,” said Todd Frazier, still thrilled to be in a pennant race after spending the first part of the season with the White Sox, last in the AL Central. “Now we get to play against a team in our division, so let’s see where we’re at right now.”
Most starts of seven-plus innings and one earned run or fewer this season:
Clayton Kershaw 11
Luis Severino 8
Max Scherzer 8