Luis Severino’s career ERA as a Wild Card starter is 81.00, so that’s one number the analytics-crazed Yankees chose to disregard in selecting him for a repeat of the same assignment, only this time Wednesday night against the A’s.
Probably because it doesn’t matter, and neither does the ridiculous amount of attention focused on the person scheduled to throw that first pitch for the Yankees, who somehow resisted the peer pressure to go with an “opener” like all the other cool kids.
The only downside to starting Severino? Leaving themselves exposed to some deserved second-guessing if he bombs, as Severino did a year ago in the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium. The Twins jumped to a 3-0 lead when two of their first four hitters took Severino deep, including leadoff man Brian Dozier.
Severino recorded only one out, but what began as a disastrous night wound up with the Yankees spraying champagne after the 8-4 victory. Knowing that history, how can we get too worked up about a starting pitcher when Aaron Boone will have nine arms ready to follow him?
If this does go sideways, fault the Yankees for being a little cute with the decision -- and perhaps peeking ahead to the Red Sox. J.A. Happ is the team’s most consistent starter since coming over from the Blue Jays (7-0, 2.69 ERA) but he also figures to be their best weapon in a Division Series showdown with Boston. This season, Happ has a 1.99 ERA in four starts against the AL East champs, holding them to a .200 batting average and .306 slugging percentage.
Regardless of what Boone says about “no tomorrows” and “first things first,” the Yankees’ front office wants Happ for multiple starts in the next round. And that strategy leaves them no choice but to go with Severino, because in our view Masahiro Tanaka has not been reliable enough lately for a do-or-die gig in the homer-happy Bronx.
The biggest fear with Severino is him getting swallowed up by the moment again, as a tidal wave of adrenaline seemingly did him in last October vs. the Twins. In a Wild Card duel, the pressure is off the charts, and Severino admits he may have been over-amped that night.
“It was a good experience,” Severino said before Tuesday’s workout. “Now I’ll take that and try to treat that game like a regular game.”
Easier said than done. Severino is a year older and wiser, so that certainly helps. He also appears to have shrugged off his second-half malaise, with a 2.04 ERA over his final three starts, including 18 strikeouts and four walks in 17 2/3 innings. It doesn’t hurt that Severino was 10-2 with a 2.74 ERA in the Bronx this season, another comfort factor.
“He’s our ace,” Aaron Judge said. “He’s our guy. He should be throwing this game.”
When Severino is right, no question. With a fastball that reaches triple digits and one of the game’s most wicked sliders, Severino is capable of dominating the A’s -- and for more than five innings. But you have to wonder if the Yankees’ hesitancy to make a decision before Sunday had a negative effect on Severino’s preparation.
Severino hasn’t started in seven days, which is anything but routine, and the extra rest can be a problem for some. He wasn’t shy about saying so, either.
“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 be Happ, Tanaka or me, so I was thinking, if they ask me, I’ll be ready.”
Apparently, Severino was as much in the dark as the rest of us. But unlike him, we don’t have to pitch Wednesday night, when he returns to the scene of the crime. The other x-factor in all of this is having Gary Sanchez behind the plate, which Boone confirmed Tuesday, but the two seemed to be over their communication issues last week against the Rays.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Sanchez said through his interpreter, “that he’s the guy to get the job done.”
Good to see someone is confident. But if Severino doesn’t? No need to worry. The Yankees used four relievers to finish off the Twins last year, and they’re prepared to deploy twice as many this time if needed. If a pitcher with an 81.00 ERA can get another crack at a Wild Card start, then anything is possible.