“It’s a real honor,” Severino said. “Last year they didn’t trust me to start a regular game, and right now I have the opportunity to open the postseason. I feel proud of myself, and the team, too.”
Wrapping up a campaign that figures to garner at least a few votes for the AL Cy Young Award, Severino finished his regular season with a 14-6 record and a 2.98 ERA in 31 starts. His 230 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings tied CC Sabathia‘s 2011 mark for the third most in a single season by a Yankee, trailing only Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904).
“He’s had a hell of a year and he knows there’s still work to be done,” first baseman Greg Bird said. “The coolest thing for me is he learned. What always made him good in the Minor Leagues was how smart he was. He always had good stuff, but how smart he was and his command. This year, I feel like the command has been there with all three pitches. He’s learned how to use it, which is everything. Our confidence is super high in him, for sure.”
Severino dotted the zone with his entire arsenal Wednesday, firing 44 fastballs, 37 sliders and 10 changeups. The only blemish in his four-hit effort came when a hanging fifth-inning slider to Adeiny Hechavarria was hit over the left-field wall.
“I felt good about him going into the playoffs, no matter what he did tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He had a really good outing tonight. I think it took him a little bit of time in the first inning to get going, but after that he was really good.”
Severino’s next assignment is likely to be against the Twins, and he said that his preparation would begin immediately. Tempted by a chance to catch the Red Sox for the division crown and avoid the one-game playoff altogether, the Yankees sent Severino to the mound against the Twins last week, offering Minnesota an advance peek at a hurler they had never faced before.
It did not go as Girardi would have imagined; Severino lasted just three innings, worn down by a 13-pitch at-bat with Joe Mauer as part of a 46-pitch third inning. Severino said that there was not much he would glean from that Sept. 20 outing.
“I think there was nothing to learn,” Severino said. “That at-bat against Mauer was everything. I threw like 13 pitches and it got me out of the game. That kind of stuff is not going to happen. That’s weird, something happens like that. I just need to throw all my pitches.”
Severino struggled mightily as a starter last year, going 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA in 11 starts before being sent to the Minors and the bullpen, where he dominated by relying on his fastball and slider. Some wondered if he’d permanently punched his ticket to the bullpen, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild had calmed those fears.
“I wasn’t worried about that,” Severino said. “At the end of the season, Larry told me to go and work out because I was going to be a starter and fight for a spot in Spring Training. That’s what I did.”
With the trust in his changeup having been restored, Severino has improved into one of the league’s best pitchers and the man that the Yankees want on the mound with all of the chips on the line.
“I have to be there to feel how it’ll be, but right now I feel confidence in myself and confidence in the team,” Severino said. “I think we’re going to be good.”
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.