The Blue Jays moved into first place on the strength of reinforcements acquired in blockbuster trades. If the Yankees are going to catch them, it just might be on the backs of young kids called up from Triple-A. Tonight the Yankees pulled within a half game of Toronto, and did so with Luis Severino pitching another gem and Greg Bird hitting another home run.
While Bird was just a part of the offense, Severino was the leader of the pitching staff. Since he arrived a month ago, no Yankees starter has a lower ERA — or even come close, really — than Severino’s 2.04. His 34 strikeouts through his first six career games are the fourth-most by a Yankees pitcher since 1914. He’s now gone at least six innings and allowed one run or less in three straight starts, something only one other Yankees’ starter (Masahiro Tanaka) has done this season.
“He belongs,” veteran catcher Brian McCann said. “He knows he belongs. He continues to show people he belongs.”
This wasn’t a dominant start throughout, but when Severino put runners on — which he did quite a bit — he routinely made big pitches to get big outs. He allowed seven hits and three walks, but he gave up only one run on a solo homer. As he’s done his time and time again, the Yankees’ confidence has clearly grown. This is no longer an experiment based on minor league success and glowing scouting reports. The Yankees are now counting on Severino every time he takes the mound.
“We feel a lot better about him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We saw him that little bit in Spring Training, we knew he threw very well when he was in Double-A and Triple-A, but until you actually go through it up here, you’re always wondering how a guy’s going to adapt. He’s adapted very well. He has confidence in what he’s doing. He understands what he needs to do, and he has confidence in all his pitches and does a really good job.”
When Severino got a strikeout to leave two runners on base at the end of the sixth inning, he pumped his fist and showed some emotion for a big out in a big spot. He made his debut against the Red Sox. He’s pitched on the road against the Blue Jays. He got his first win against the only team that’s seen him twice. Tonight he finally went more than six innings. Severino keeps checking off boxes.
“A lot of confidence,” Severino said. “Every time I touch the mound, my team makes me be comfortable.”
It’s getting ahead of ourselves to think about a postseason rotation — Severino has to help the Yankees get there first — but at this point, the kid has to start in the playoffs, right? Haven’t these six games shown enough to assume he’ll be starting when the calendar flips to October?
“You haven’t seen anything that says you wouldn’t (do that),” Girardi said. “You think about the starts that he’s made: his first start against the Red Sox; his next start coming off a five game losing streak; started in Toronto (against a) very tough lineup. We haven’t seen anything that tells us otherwise.”
• Although his bat has gone quiet at times, Bird has now homered in back-to-back games and he’s had a hit in six of his past seven with eight runs, seven RBI and five walks. “I’m just glad I can contribute,” Bird said. “I feel like I’ve done a good job of that. It’s good to be part of this team.”
• Here’s Girardi on his young first baseman: “He’s adjusting really well. I feel like there’s huge expectations on this young man because we’ve talked about him and we know he’s a good player. But he’s going to have his 0-fors, and he’s going to have his good days too. Had a big day the other day in Boston, and had another big day today. He’s had some hits off of left handers as well. I’m really happy with what he’s doing.”
• The Yankees hit three homers at Yankee Stadium for the first time July 8 against Oakland. They’ve hit 15 homers in their past seven games after hitting just three homers in their previous six games. The Yankees had just four hits tonight, and the only one that wasn’t a home run was an infield single. “We’ve got guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark,” McCann said. “We take our walks, and that’s what happened tonight. Got a walk, homer and then another one. We can beat you in a lot of different ways.”
• A few weird offensive numbers from tonight: The Yankees had a .067 BABIP for the game, they did not have a single at-bat with a runner in scoring position, and they left just one runner stranded for the first time since April 19 of last season.
• Alex Rodriguez now has 27 home runs this season. Tonight’s was his third home run in 32 games since July 28.
• Against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, McCann is now 11-for-17 with three doubles, a triple and three home runs. According to Elias, his 1.471 slugging percentage against Odorizzi is the highest of any current AL hitter against any current AL pitcher (minimum 15 at-bats).
• McCann also threw out another base runner tonight. He’s thrown out 22-of-58 base stealers this season, tied for the second-highest caught stealing total of his career (he had 31 in 2010). He’s caught 8-of-13 runners since August 17.
• Andrew Miller converted his 30th save of the season. YES Network’s research manager Jeff Quagliata noted that the Yankees have had four different pitchers reach 30 saves the past four seasons (Soriano, Rivera, Robertson, Miller).
• Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury has had flu-like symptoms and he left tonight’s game because he was throwing up. “I have not talked to him since he left the game,” Girardi said. “He was throwing up and we just decided to pull him. Hopefully he feels better tomorrow. I don’t know if he’s a player for me tomorrow.”
• Final word goes to Girardi talking about Severino: “It’s extremely comforting because you feel good about it every time he takes the mound, and you have confidence if runners get in scoring position like they did tonight, that he can make the pitch; that you don’t have to go to your bullpen really early. It helps us all around.”
Associated Press photos