NEW YORK — Two pitches into the fourth inning of 21-year-old Yankees prospect Luis Severino’s major league debut, Red Sox designated hitter and established Yankees killer David Ortiz welcomed the pitcher to the show with a towering home run into the rightfield bleachers. He’d labor through 23 more pitches in the frame, but Severino regained his focus quickly enough to rebound with a strikeout of Hanley Ramirez.
Ortiz’s homer was the second and final hit Severino allowed on the night. He made his Yankees debut knowing that one bad performance wouldn’t put him back on a bus to the minor leagues. But just for safe measure, Severino wowed the New York fans and coaching staff with his electric stuff Wednesday, validating the hype that surrounded him during his successful tenure in the minors.
“I thought he did a pretty good job tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees' 2–1 loss. “I thought he made some big pitches in some 3–2 counts. I told you I didn’t think the surroundings would affect him a whole lot. He’s got poise.”
The two-batter sequence in the fourth inning captured the essence of Severino’s outing. He was in attack mode on the mound from his first pitch to his last, his aggressive style of pitching fueled by talent and confidence. Boston’s bats had trouble turning his pitches around all night; Ortiz’s moonshot and Ramirez’s double were the only pitches that were really hit well. The rest produced a medley of swings and misses, foul balls and toothless fly-outs.
“That young kid, he’s got good stuff,” Ortiz said. “I think he’s gonna be pretty good. He’s got a good fastball, he’s got that cutter, a changeup. I think at the beginning of the game he was kind of missing location a bit, but other than that, he was very explosive.”
Indeed, there were plenty of positives in Severino’s debut. He threw 94 pitches in his five innings of work, the vast majority being fastballs between 94-97 mph. He gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits, walked no one and struck out seven. According to the Yankees, no American League pitcher had ever kept a team to two hits while walking none and striking out seven in his MLB debut.
“I felt the same way I felt in Double A and Triple A,” Severino said. “Same baseball. All I was trying to do was get people out. I wasn’t trying to strike out anybody, just get people out. Sometimes I made the pitch, sometimes I didn’t. When you make a mistake here, you pay for it.”
There were also moments where you were reminded that he was making his major league debut. He paced around the mound between nearly every pitch, frequenting the rosin bag and keeping his spikes immaculate, he fell behind in the count often and he struggled to finish off hitters at times. Even so, Severino pitched more than well enough to win, and if the Yankees’ red-hot offense had scored half of the 8.3 runs per game it had averaged over the last 12 games, he’d likely have got the victory. Instead, New York managed just five hits and one run against knuckleball-throwing Red Sox starter Steven Wright.
“He’s been in baseball long enough to know that those things happen,” Girardi said of Severino. “It’s just so hard to predict what’s going to happen with a knuckleballer. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do much.”
Yankees righthander Michael Pineda won’t return from the disabled list until sometime in September at the earliest, so regardless of the results, the Luis Severino experiment is going to get its chance to play out. Before the game, GM Brian Cashman and Girardi reinforced as much. Had Boston’s offense torched Severino on Wednesday, he was still going to get the ball in Cleveland on Monday. By the same token, one good start doesn’t write the book on him either. But it does start the first chapter on a high note.
“You expect the adrenaline to be a little bit better in the next start, the nerves to be a little bit better in his next start, and maybe go a little deeper for us,” Girardi said. “But he made a bunch of really good pitches. He’s got a live arm.”
By standing firm at the trade deadline and treating Severino’s call-up in the way that it is, New York is displaying the kind of patience with its latest young stud that it has lacked in recent times. In the past, the Yankees have lamented not having a chip of Severino’s value to land a big player at the trade deadline. And the last time a top Yankees pitching prospect made it to the big leagues, the organization showed exactly what not to do in handling young pitching talent, as Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. So far, the team seems to have learned from those mistakes.
“I feel really good,” Severino said. “I’m very happy to be here.”
If Wednesday night was any indication, the Yankees are going to be very happy about that, too. In the long term, holding on to Severino could pay dividends for years to come.