Luis Severino's Solid Debut Flashes Potential to Help Yankees' Contention Hopes

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 6, 2015

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From the perspective that it didn't lead to a win, Luis Severino's major league debut was a failure.

From just about every other perspective, however, it was a success. Severino may not have led the New York Yankees to victory, but he looked the part of a pitcher who could lead them to a handful of must-have wins in what's left of the 2015 season.

That performance went down Tuesday night in the Yankees' 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. The 21-year-old right-hander out of the Dominican Republic was responsible for both of Boston's runs, but they came in a five-inning stint that featured just two hits with zero walks and seven strikeouts.

The best major league debut ever? Hardly.

But as the Yankees' public relations department noted, Severino's debut was good enough to put him in the American League history books:

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In all, what the Yankees saw Tuesday night was their prized prospect—No. 16 in baseball according to MLB.com and No. 17 according to Baseball America—living up to the hype.

And boy did they need to see that.

With Michael Pineda currently out with a forearm injury, Ivan Nova having only recently returned from Tommy John surgery and CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka struggling to recreate their glory days, the Yankees need as much starting pitching help as they can get. If Severino has more starts like that in him, New York will gladly take them.

And based on what we saw Tuesday night, he should.

Before Severino made his major league debut, he was last seen racking up a 1.91 ERA in 11 starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Along the way, probably the two things that garnered the most attention were his plus fastball and command.

Severino showed off both of these in his debut. Per the raw PitchF/X data at Brooks Baseball, his four-seam fastball sat at 95 miles per hour and got as high as 98. He also threw 59 of his 94 pitches for strikes and was pretty good about staying out of the middle of the strike zone, per Brooks Baseball.

This was Severino's big "Whoops" moment.
This was Severino's big "Whoops" moment.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Severino's outing wasn't quite mistake-free, mind you. He gave Alejandro De Aza and David Ortiz fastballs on the inner part of the plate to turn on, resulting in a double off the right-center field wall for De Aza and a booming home run to right field for Ortiz.

The lesson learned? As Severino told Erik Boland of Newsday after the game: "When you miss a pitch here, you pay for it."

But rather than nitpick what Severino did wrong with those two pitches, we're better off acknowledging how they were part of an overall process that was largely successful.

Though much has been said about Severino's four-seam fastball, he showed that he's also able to mix in two-seamers and cutters to give hitters different looks. He ramped up the difficulty with with his ability to locate, as Red Sox hitters were liable to see a four-seamer on the edge of the strike zone one pitch then a sinker or cutter off the edge the next offering.

Severino also showed that he could use his cutter to set up his slider, and vice versa. ESPN Stats and Information says the two pitches accounted for five of his seven strikeouts, and in general Boston hitters seemed to have no answer for either pitch.

Just ask Xander Bogaerts, who was frozen by a nasty cutter in the first inning for Severino's first career strikeout:

If there's a disappointing aspect of Severino's debut, it's that his changeup didn't make many appearances. Christopher Crawford of Baseball Prospectus wrote that Severino's changeup is the pitch that "makes him such an effective hurler," but he only threw four of them Tuesday night. Given that two of the four he threw drew whiffs, however, that's not likely to be recurring theme.

All told, Severino offered plenty to like in his debut. Jack Curry of the YES Network summed it up well:

From here, it's on to the next one for Severino. He was likely sticking around for more starts no matter what with Pineda on the disabled list until at least September, and it doesn't sound like workload concerns are going to get in the way.

According to Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the club managed Severino's innings early in 2015 just in case it needed him to provide help in the majors during the stretch run.

Basically, just in case the Yankees needed him in the situation he currently finds himself in.

"I can't say he was always in, but if everything went well and we needed him, we knew we would call him up," Cashman said. "But only if we needed him, and only if he earned it. Well, he's earned it. He's somebody we're excited about."

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Yankees darn well should have been excited to call on Severino. And now that he's arrived, they really have no choice but to be optimistic.

With their rotation in a spot of bother and their lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East down to 4.5 games, further good work from Severino looks more like a necessity than a luxury. They need him to give them solid outings every fifth day, lest they run the risk of missing out on a division title.

Fortunately, it looks like Severino is up to the task. He was earning buzz as one of baseball's best pitching prospects before he set foot in the major leagues, and he showed in his debut that all the buzz was well warranted.

If he can keep it up, the Yankees' return to form should have a happy ending.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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