New Luis on life: Big stage not fazing Severino

Young Yanks right-hander to duel fellow Dominican ace Santana in AL Wild Card Game

New Luis on life: Big stage not fazing Severino

NEW YORK -- When Luis Severino buttons his pinstriped Yankees jersey and throws the first pitch of tonight's American League Wild Card Game against the Twins, it will mark the first postseason appearance of his career at any level, a challenge that has rattled more experienced pitchers than the 23-year-old right-hander.

Yet Severino said that he is confident and relaxed heading into the contest, which comes as no surprise to the teammates who have watched the hurler silence opposing lineups all season long. The Yanks are expecting the same caliber of effort with their season on the line.

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"He's been dominant. He's attacking hitters. He's always getting in the good counts," Aaron Judge said. "Every time I look up there, it's always 0-1, 0-2. He's never falling behind a lot of hitters. When you've got his repertoire and his stuff and you're getting ahead of guys like that, good things will happen. He just dominates hitters."

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The pitching matchup will carry a certain Dominican flair, as Severino prepares to go up against fellow countryman Ervin Santana. Among qualified starting pitchers who hail from the Dominican, Severino (2.98 ERA) and Santana (3.28) had the two lowest ERAs and two highest WARs, making this a showdown of the two most effective pitchers from that baseball hotbed. "It's going to be fun," said Santana. "I know the fans [from the Dominican] are going to be split, but hopefully we both have good games."

Santana vs. Severino

The pitchers grew up on opposite coasts of the island, and Severino said that he and Santana met for the first time at this year's All-Star Game in Miami, which marked Severino's first career trip to the Midsummer Classic.

"I don't know him a lot; I just spoke to him at the All-Star Game, but I would say that he's a good guy," Severino said. "He's a great pitcher and I'm looking forward to facing him. I'm wishing him good luck."

Not too much, though. The Yankees would like to keep the positive fortune on their side as they gear up for three hours that will define their season, hoping that the lightning in Severino's right arm can punch their ticket to Cleveland and a showdown with the Indians in the American League Division Series presented Doosan.

Girardi on starting Severino

"I feel good about our chances," Brett Gardner said. "I like the team we have. I like the fact we get to throw Luis Severino out there tomorrow. He's been pretty darn good this year, one of the top two or three right-handed starters in the game this year. He's a guy we love being behind. Once we turn the ball over to our bullpen, we feel good about that. And our lineup, I think we're going to score some runs and play some defense."

Severino won nine of his final 13 starts to finish 14-6, ranking third in the AL in ERA, fourth with 230 strikeouts and ninth in innings pitched (193 1/3). Severino's ERA this season represented the lowest by a qualified Yankees hurler since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) in 1997.

After shaking hands with Santana in Miami, Severino allowed one earned run or fewer in 10 of 14 starts, going 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA to wrap up the season.

"He's been phenomenal all year," said Yankees reliever Dellin Betances. "He's just composed. He's confident. I know from talking to him this year, he's been always ready for any big moment. He relishes this opportunity. He's worked hard for this."

With some help from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, Severino regained the confidence in his changeup, complementing his high-90s fastball and biting slider. In Severino's most recent start against the Rays, he averaged 98.1 mph with his fastball, maxing out at 99.3 mph.

"[Martinez] told me that if I change my mechanics a little bit, I'll be more consistent in my strike zone," Severino said. "That's what I did, and that's how that worked out and helped me."

Severino's terrific outing

Eyeing a chance to close ground on the Red Sox for the AL East title, the Yankees sent Severino to the mound on Sept. 20 for his first and only career start against the Twins.

Worn down by a 13-pitch at-bat with Joe Mauer that ended with a run-scoring single, Severino was lifted following a 46-pitch third inning, having allowed three runs and five hits in his second-shortest start of the season.

Despite the outcome, Severino said that he was happy to have had an advance look at the Twins.

"I think they're good hitters," Severino said. "They hit the ball a lot. They've got good runners. They like to bunt. So I'm looking forward to go over there and try to make good pitches, and try to be more economical with my pitches."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.