NEW YORK -- The Yankees have the chance to close out the Astros and head to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009, and they'll turn to their regular-season ace, Luis Severino, who is healthy and ready to go for tonight's Game 6 in Houston.
Severino was pitching well against the Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, allowing one run on two hits over four strong innings, when manager Joe Girardi saw him attempting to rotate his pitching shoulder in the fourth and decided to take him out after the inning. The 2017 All-Star pleaded to remain in the game, but Girardi didn't want to risk it and turned to the bullpen. Severino didn't have to undergo any testing and threw his bullpen session on Wednesday with no issues.
• Dress for the ALCS: Get Yankees postseason gear
"I'm excited to go over there and try to do my best with the team we have," Severino said Thursday. "I just worry about my game, don't worry about the fans, the noises, just to control myself and focus on hitting the glove and making good pitches. I feel strong. My bullpen yesterday was great. My changeup was good. My fastball was great. I have to say that I feel great right now."
:: ALCS schedule and coverage ::
With an off-day on Thursday and only Tommy Kahnle pitching in relief after Masahiro Tanaka threw seven scoreless frames in Wednesday's 5-0 win to give the Yankees a 3-2 ALCS lead, New York also will have the advantage of a well-rested bullpen in case Severino doesn't pitch deep into the game. But the Yanks have confidence in Severino for the potential clincher, starting opposite veteran right-hander Justin Verlander.
"He works quick, which we love on defense, and once he gets going, he's dominant," said third baseman Todd Frazier of Severino. "I didn't know how much energy he had on the mound until I started playing with him. It's a lot of fun to watch him."
Girardi will monitor Severino closely, given the magnitude of the start, and the manager said his advice to the righty is not to make the moment any bigger than it is, especially early in the game. Severino dealt with that in his start against the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game, recording just one out, but Girardi and Severino both think he learned from that outing.
"The big thing is getting through the first inning and not being too hyped up," Girardi said. "You have to pitch with your brain, not your arm, because you have to be smart and you can't try to overpower through situations, because this team will turn around fastballs. So he has to locate and change speeds. That's kind of the advice that I give him."
Girardi explained he was being cautious after Severino's high pitch count in his impressive start against the Indians in Game 4 of the AL Division Series presented by Doosan, in which he allowed three runs over seven innings while striking out nine. Severino also has thrown a career-high 204 2/3 innings this season, including the postseason, after throwing a combined 151 1/3 innings between the Minors and the Majors last year.
"I think that going into Game 6 it's going to be an important game, one way or another, so I feel good about where he's at," Girardi said. "My concern was coming off, I think it was 113 pitches, the amount of innings, I was concerned when people said he looks a little different. But those concerns have kind of been put to rest for me."
Severino didn't show any signs of fatigue against Houston, however, as his average fastball velocity was actually higher than it was against Cleveland. He didn't strike out any Astros hitters, though, generating four swings and misses with his fastball and one with his slider.
But Severino said his arm feels fresh enough that he could throw another 20 to 30 innings in the postseason.
"Even though I didn't strike out anybody, I was feeling good," Severino said. "I was getting outs."
Severino pitched effectively on the road this season, posting a 2.24 ERA with 116 strikeouts and only six homers allowed over 96 1/3 innings in 15 starts. He has to limit homers, however, as he's served up five in 11 1/3 innings this postseason, including a solo shot to Carlos Correa in Game 2. But it's also the lone homer hit by Houston this series, as the Astros are slugging .213 as a team.
So if Severino can keep Houston's bats cold and the Yankees can find a way to get to Verlander, the Baby Bombers could become the first team since the 1985 Royals to erase two 2-0 deficits in the same postseason.
"Last year I was watching the World Series, and now we have a chance to be in the World Series," Severino said. "I'm proud of the work that I did in the offseason, the work that I did with my pitching coach here that helped me be what I am. And I'm proud of myself and the team that we have."