There were few better starting pitchers in the season’s first half than Luis Severino.
There were few worse for much of the second half.
The Yankees are gambling on the former showing up Wednesday night. In what could be described as a minor surprise, Aaron Boone named Severino to start the American League Wild Card game against the A’s at the Stadium.
“What I believe is when he’s pitching his best, he’ll be the best pitcher on the field tomorrow,” Boone said Tuesday. “I feel like he’s ready for this opportunity, and I think he’s very much looking forward to taking the ball.”
Wednesday’s winner gets the Red Sox in a best-of-five Division Series that starts Friday night at 7:30 at Fenway Park.
Severino went 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA the first half, earning his second straight All-Star bid, and was very much a Cy Young Award contender. But he went 5-6, 5.57 in the second half, those numbers saved somewhat by a solid three-game stretch to close the season (2-1, 2.04 ERA).
“It means a lot, it means that they trust me,” Severino said of getting the nod over J.A. Happ, who was the favorite to get the start, and Masahiro Tanaka.
Severino’s last start came Sept. 25 at Tampa, meaning he’ll be starting on seven days’ rest.
While saying the extended rest “is going to be good,” Severino acknowledged the uncertainty involved in the decision. Boone and club hierarchy, including general manager Brian Cashman, didn’t make a call on it until Sunday.
“It’s tough,” Severino said. “As a starter we need to know at least four or five days before, but I thought it was going to either be Happ, or Tanaka or me. So I was thinking if they ask me, I’ll be ready.”
Severino got the same assignment last year against the Twins and was hooked by Joe Girardi after allowing three runs, three hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Chad Green pitched out of a one-out jam, the bullpen was brilliant the rest of the way and the offense erupted for an 8-4 victory.
Boone said Severino (19-8, 3.39) will have an opportunity to pitch “deep” into the game, but with a fully rested bullpen – which includes strikeout arms Green, David Robertson, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Zach Britton, who likely will be the closer – the leash will be short.
“I just want to win,” Severino said. “Whatever happens, if I can go four good innings and then the bullpen comes in, that would be great. I just want to win and move on and go to Boston and try to win there.”
There were more than a few in the organization, including in the clubhouse, who figured Happ would get the start based on his performance since being acquired at the trade deadline. The lefthander went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA, including a start Sept. 4 at Oakland in which he allowed one run and two hits over six innings.
Severino was a mixed bag against Oakland – allowing one run in six innings May 13 at the Stadium, then getting lit up for six runs (five earned) and six hits over 2 2/3 innings Sept. 5 in Oakland. In that game Severino and catcher Gary Sanchez, with whom he’ll be paired Wednesday, were a mess. In the first inning, there were two wild pitches and two passed balls. That was the last of Severino’s bad starts.
“I feel like he’s turned a corner and really started to throw the ball better,” Boone said. “I think he’s ready for this.”
Nick Martini LF
Matt Chapman 3B
Jed Lowrie 2B
Khris Davis DH
Matt Olson 1B
Stephen Piscotty RF
Ramon Laureano CF
Marcus Semien SS
Jonathan Lucroy C
Liam Hendricks P
Aaron Judge RF
Aaron Hicks CF
Didi Gregorius SS
Luke Voit 1B
Miguel Andujar 3B
Gary Sanchez C
Gleyber Torres 2B
Luis Severino P
Luis Severino’s career numbers against the A’s:
IP 20 2⁄3