John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
First things first: you can't help but feel for Dellin Betances, one of the good guys in baseball, who tore his Achilles tendon in a freakish manner Sunday on the very day he finally pitched in a game for the first time this season.
That's as cruel as it is painful, all the more so considering that he is a couple months away from becoming a free agent.
Yet the cold truth is that if the Yankees can have only one of the two star pitchers for whom they've waited all season, they would much prefer it to be Luis Severino.
Simply put, they have a championship-worthy bullpen even without Betances, while they may need the boost that Severino can give their starting rotation if they're going to win it all this season.
So even on a night when they took another punch to the gut on the injury front, the Yankees also took an important step toward a championship with Severino's impressive four innings against the Angels in his first start of the season.
Somehow that dichotomy seems appropriate for a team that has already set an MLB record for most players put on the injury list in a single season, one that can't seem to go more than a few days at a time without someone else getting hurt. Remarkably they're still on their way to winning well over 100 games, yet the unrelenting nature of the injuries has added intrigue to the quest for a 28th World Series title, as we wait to find out if they can overcome their bad luck all the way to the end of October.
Severino's first official day back on the job certainly gave Yankee fans more reason to believe, as the 26-year-old right-hander delivered four shutout innings while showing off the weapons that have produced periods of ace-like dominance during his career.
Most significantly, he had a high-octane fastball that averaged 96 mph, touched 97-98 mph at times, and had late life that made it tough for hitters to square up. Even more impressively, Severino mostly stayed out of the middle of the plate with the fastball, working inside and outside, as well as up and down.
"For his first time out, I thought the fastball command was good, knowing he had to be dealing with a lot of emotion," said a scout on Wednesday from a team that could meet the Yankees in the postseason.
"The slider wasn't as good. He hung a few, and some others were flat. But he threw a few good ones too, and that pitch will probably come with a little more feel. I was impressed that he threw some effective changeups too.
"He's got great stuff and obviously the Yankees are better with him, but can he pitch with command under postseason pressure? That's where all the missed time could be a factor."
Yes, as amped up as Severino had to be Tuesday night, pitching to a bad team like the Angels with only postseason home-field advantage at stake is a far cry from taking the mound in October with so much riding on every delivery. And that's especially considering that he hasn't seemed to handle it well in the past.
Severino famously failed to get out of the first inning in the 2017 Wild Card Game against the Twins, pitched only so-so the rest of that postseason, and then lasted only three-plus innings against the Red Sox in last year's ALDS, where he gave up six runs in a pivotal Game 3 blowout at home.
With that as a backdrop, it may be asking a lot of Severino to deliver in the postseason with so few innings under his belt. But for the Yankees, it's clearly it's worth the gamble, considering the state of their starting pitching.
James Paxton is the one guy pitching at a high level, and he seems likely to get the ball in Game 1. Otherwise, even Masahiro Tanaka, who has a proven track record of pitching well in the postseason, has had trouble all season commanding his splitter and slider. Those two pitches are are vital to his success, with the 2019 baseball that pitchers say is slicker and harder to grip at the seams.
As such, the Yankees seem to be preparing to get creative in the postseason, limiting starters to three or four innings before going the piggy-back route with another starter, all to get to a point where the bullpen can take over.
That's where Betances would have been a nice addition, but with his velocity only in the 94 mph-range during his rehab outings, there was some question about where the Yankees would have slotted him in the pen.
In fact, one person connected to the Yankees said there "wasn't much chance" Betances would have been used in his old eighth-inning role, or in more high-leverage spots than Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green, all of whom have pitched well getting the ball to closer Aroldis Chapman.
Perhaps that thinking would have changed if Betances got on a roll, with none of the control issues that have haunted him at times during his career.
But as both pitchers finally made it back to the big leagues this week, the need for Severino made him the priority. So as devastating as Betances' injury is on a personal level for him, and for teammates who love the guy, privately the Yankees know this is still another body blow they can absorb and continue rolling.
That's because Severino is back and throwing high heat again.