Giancarlo Stanton, the guy who was launching baseballs halfway to the Liberty Bell during batting practice, knows what it’s like to do the incredible on a nightly basis. Turns out, the missile Stanton launched completely out of Citizens Bank Park that afternoon ranked a distant second to the most amazing thing he witnessed Tuesday.
The first? The force of nature known as Luis Severino.
“In the middle of the seventh inning, he’s still throwing 100 mph,” Stanton said.
Count that among the many reasons the Yankees are glad to be watching Severino while standing behind him. From the vantage point of the batter’s box, it’s no fun at all, as the Phillies mostly walked back to the dugout, shattered, during Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to the Yankees.
The Phillies are lucky to reside in the NL East, a safe haven from Severino’s fury, except for every third year, when the interleague schedule drags them into the Yankees’ orbit. But now that they’ve had their seven-inning smackdown from Severino, whose nine-strikeout, no-walk performance sped by in a relative blink, it’s time for the Yankees to focus their greatest pitching weapon back onto the AL East, and the looming weekend duel with the Red Sox in the Bronx.
Aaron Boone hasn’t revealed his rotation beyond Friday, when CC Sabathia will start the series opener, but you’d have to think Severino will get that Sunday night ESPN game on his regular rest. The others can be juggled accordingly because right now, the Yankees have a half-game lead on Boston, and each one of these matchups is too valuable to entrust with anyone else if Severino is prepped to go.
“I’m not scared of anybody,” Severino said. “I’ll be happy to face the Red Sox, or any team they tell me to face.”
Sunday is fine, and then after that, why not give Severino a shot at starting next month’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park? With Tuesday’s win, Severino improved to 12-2, the best record in the majors, and his 2.10 ERA ties him with the Indians’ Corey Kluber for second in the AL, behind the Astros’ Justin Verlander (1.82). Severino ranks sixth in the AL in WHIP (0.96) and seventh in K/9 ratio (10.64), but as crazy as it may sound, leading the first half in wins often can give a starting candidate an edge when it comes to the Midsummer Classic.
“It would mean a lot,” Severino said. “But I’m not thinking about more than five days ahead.”
That’s OK. Tunnel vision is good. Let Boone worry about the big picture stuff, and from what this rookie manager has witnessed, Severino deserves to be counted among the sport’s elite starters, and he’s only 24. The numbers he was posting Tuesday night were video-game quality as Severino’s fastball maxed at 101.2 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net, and sat at 99.2. The slider averaged 89.5 (90.2 max) and changeup was 90.4 (91.7 max).
No wonder the Yankees are 15-2 in his starts this season, and Severino has allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of them, as well as one run or fewer in eight. That heavily tilts the odds in the Yankees’ favor when Severino takes the mound, and Boone didn’t flinch when asked if he should be mentioned among the game’s top aces.
“He’s certainly in that conversation,” Boone said. “We’ve seen all the Houston guys that have been really, really good. But Sevy’s right there with them. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone being any better.”
Is there any starter a team would rather have for a do-or-die game than Severino? From a talent standpoint, not really. The only thing he lacks is the experience of a Verlander, who is 35 and admits to having a higher pitching IQ now than he did at any other point in his Hall of Fame career. Plus, Verlander has 21 career playoff starts under his belt, along with last year’s World Series ring and the ALCS MVP trophy he earned at the Yankees’ expense (2-0, 0.56 ERA).
But Severino has made significant strides along his learning curve, bouncing back from that disastrous wild-card game against the Twins, the night in the Bronx he was pulled after only one out. We’d say Severino keeps looking stronger, but that’s physically impossible.
As for Tuesday’s mastery of the Phillies? “He did what he does,” catcher Austin Romine said.
Evidently, there’s no ceiling for that.