By David Lennon
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, left, speaks with pitching coach Larry Rothschild in the dugout in the sixth inning of an MLB game against the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, April 7, 2017, in Baltimore.
With these growing Yankees, from Luis Severino to Gary Sanchez to Greg Bird to Aaron Judge, the hardest part is to be saddled with sky-high potential. Until they live up to those expectations on a yearly basis, that’s all we’re left with: promises waiting to be fulfilled.
It’s what Hal Steinbrenner is banking on, and Brian Cashman. As for Joe Girardi, he’s playing the hand he’s been dealt. And during a rebuilding period, the manager usually has the most uncomfortable seat at the table, such as during Friday night’s 6-5 loss to the Orioles.
A close second, however, are the locker stools occupied by those future stars. Just a few days into this season, the restless buzzing around Sanchez, Bird and Judge already was starting to increase in volume.
Whether the noise is logical or fair, during the opening week of a six-month season, doesn’t really matter. And no amount of explaining or rationalizing is going to make that noise disappear.
Girardi sounded pleased with Severino’s five-inning stint, and he showed glimpses by flashing a 98-mph fastball, along with a changeup and slider that were effective at times. But when it counted most, one out from a B-plus night, Severino teed up a three-run homer to Manny Machado in the fifth that trimmed the Yankees’ edge to 5-4 and inspired the Orioles’ comeback.
“I’m not disappointed,” Severino said. “My confidence was high all game. That pitch to Machado, I tip my cap. That was a good pitch.”
Severino left with the lead and delivered a full five innings, but that’s enough for only a passing grade, not the gold star Sanchez got for showing his young teammates the surest way to eliminate the buzzing. He walloped his first home run since Sept. 27, a monster blast that nearly cleared the first section of the leftfield bleachers. Before connecting on that Ubaldo Jimenez splitter, Sanchez had been 1-for-15 with a single and three strikeouts.
“It feels great,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “So I’m hoping I can keep on going.”
With 20 home runs and 42 RBIs in 53 games last year, Sanchez has a legend to live up to, and that’s not easy. But as Girardi said before the game, the main support he can provide is to keep giving his young guns a chance, to let them ride out the early turbulence. “I think you need to continue to show confidence in them,” Girardi said.
The Yankees are not traditionally known for their patience, but the organizational shift of the past few years has made them evaluate these players with a calendar rather than a stopwatch.
Handing the ball to Severino on Friday night was the next phase in his development, one the Yankees believe still points him to the rotation rather than the bullpen. But Severino’s uneven performance illustrated not only how tantalizingly close he is to being the dominant pitcher the Yankees imagine him to be but how far he is from that finished product.
During one stretch in which Severino retired seven straight and 11 of 12, he had back-to-back strikeouts of Adam Jones (change) and Machado (slider). When he got within arm’s length of escaping danger in the fifth, however, he failed the test.
It’s Girardi’s duty to remind us that Severino, at 23, is the youngest player on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. But at this level, there is a responsibility that comes with the pinstripes, regardless of age.
Bird certainly is feeling that pressure after an 0-for-4 night that included three strikeouts and a costly failure to block Chase Headley’s short-hop throw in the seventh. Headley wound up with the error, and the Yankees got the “L” when Seth Smith followed with the deciding two-run homer. Bird is 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts.
“That’s just how it goes,” he said. “The ups and downs. I’ve just got to work through it.”
A victory would have let everyone overlook the hitless nights for Bird and Judge (two strikeouts, one double-play grounder). Instead, the Yankees were left frustrated by what might have been on a frosty night at Camden Yards — and still waiting for the youngsters not named Sanchez to arrive.