Brett Gardner, bullpen help Yankees pick up Luis Severino

ByColey Harvey via ESPN logo
Friday, July 13, 2018

CLEVELAND -- Luis Severino shared the same belief countless others had just before Corey Kluber's first pitch was thrown at Progressive Field on Thursday night.

"I thought this was going to be a pitchers' duel," Severino said following the series opener between his New York Yankees and Kluber's Cleveland Indians.

"But it didn't go that way."

Indeed, the much-anticipated Severino-Kluber matchup -- one that was hyped because of the starters' sub-2.50 ERAs and double-digit win tallies -- failed to live up to its lofty billing as the offenses churned out a combined 18 hits (nine for each team) and five home runs in a 7-4 Yankees win.

Every one of Cleveland's hits came with same Yankees pitcher on the mound: Severino. It seemed like baseball after baseball that left the starter's right hand was blasted to some part of the field. To their credit, the four Yankees relievers who replaced Severino across the game's final four innings held Cleveland hitless to keep their club in the ballgame.

"They kind of did a number on us," Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Combine the Yankees relievers' version of a half-game no-hitter with an offensive outburst, and the end result is the type of win through which a team can have a valuable lesson reinforced.

Even when its best starting pitcher gets shelled by a very good hitting team, the Yankees still have a roster that is complete enough to pull through with a victory.

"Up and down the lineup we had contributions in big at-bats in big spots," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "The night when Sevy didn't have his best, the rest of the guys were able to come through in a very big way."

How rough was Severino's night? He had his first one-strikeout game since September 2016, and he allowed multiple homers in a second consecutive game for the first time since May 2016.

"They took very good at-bats against me for a lot of pitches, and they made me grind," Severino said. "I struck out one batter. I'm not that kind of guy. I'm maybe two or five, but not one."

Four times this season Severino has reached double digits in strikeouts. In two other games, he finished with nine K's.

Part of his issue was that Cleveland's hitters were getting into their share of deep counts and fouling off numerous pitches. With a 47.1 percent foul rating (28 of the balls Indians hitters swung at were fouled off), he had his second-highest percentage of pitches fouled off this season.

Another problem for Severino was that his fastball and slider were, as Boone said, at times flat with their movement. The velocity on his fastball also was down, checking in at 96.78 mph, about 1 mph slower than average.

Severino said he didn't detect a change in his velocity, but Boone thought it was somewhat visible.

"You credit [Cleveland] with really squaring him up more so than we've seen at any time this year," Boone said. "Just overall sharp for him and one of those rare outings for him."

Regardless of what caused Severino's troublesome start, the fact remains that his teammates were there to pick him up. He doesn't take that for granted.

"The guys always hit, they always support me with a lot of runs," Severino said. "The bullpen is outstanding. When I have a bad game, they're always right there. They're out there to support me and we win. That's the main thing."

On a night when the bullpen covered four scoreless innings in which it allowed only two baserunners (one on an error and the other on a walk), the offense was led by outfielders Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicksand first baseman Greg Bird.

Gardner slugged a pair of home runs, including a third-inning two-run shot that got the Yankees on the board after they trailed 2-0 early. He came back in the ninth and added a solo homer, rattling a towering fly off the right-field foul pole. Gardner has hit four home runs in his past seven games.

Prior to Gardner's ninth-inning homer, New York had been slowly chipping away at Kluber, trying to make his night as difficult as Severino's.

"We've just got to get guys on base, and keep making a guy like that throw pitches, and eventually try and get to him," Gardner said.

After 114 pitches, the Yankees finally did, running Kluber from the game in a two-run eighth inning that snapped a 4-4 tie. Hicks' 405-foot go-ahead, RBI double off the center-field wall proved to be the key blow.

"Aaron does so many things as far as his ability to get on base, his speed element, the power he brings from both sides of the plate," Boone said. "He's just a really good player, and I'm glad that people are a little bit more starting to see that."

Following the double, Hicks made the heady decision to steal third on Cleveland reliever Oliver Perez, setting up a sacrifice fly opportunity for Bird moments later. When Bird drove Hicks in for his 11th RBI in his past four games, he helped cap a complete team win.

"Look what he's been doing lately. That's what you want from everybody," Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who hit his own 430-foot homer off Kluber, said of Bird. "You want to do damage from top to bottom.

"That's good that it's what we've been seeing."

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