Brito aces rotation audition with 5 1/3 perfect innings

March 26th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- was about to pop in a pair of AirPods and find a seat at his locker in the Yankees’ clubhouse early on Sunday afternoon, preparing for his start against the Blue Jays, when he spotted  in the far corner of the room.

The pitchers had a brief exchange in which the injured Severino encouraged the young right-hander to focus on executing his pitches, closing with: “Hopefully you get that starting spot.”

If this was an audition, Brito aced it, retiring all 16 batters he faced in a 6-2 Grapefruit League victory over Toronto at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

“It felt like a big opportunity,” Brito said through an interpreter. “I think it was a great way for them to see if I can keep being the pitcher I’ve been in camp and in my career, somebody that attacks the zone. It was a really good opportunity to show what I can do and how I can pitch.”

Brito struck out the side in the first inning -- two looking, one swinging -- then he induced 10 of the next 13 outs on the ground. His 58-pitch effort was so effective that the Yankees allowed him to begin the sixth inning, then they had him throw more in the bullpen after receiving a standing ovation from a crowd of 10,135 people.

“That was great,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s got our attention all camp. He’s earned a strong reputation throughout player development. He was very at ease doing what he was doing today. It was good to see.”

The Yankees optioned Brito to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on March 6, and the 25-year-old acknowledges he had no thoughts of cracking the season-opening rotation when camp began. But Severino’s right lat strain has shifted the landscape, and with the Yanks potentially in need of a fifth starter, Brito has jumped to the head of the line.

Rated as one of the best strike-throwers in the Yankees’ system, Brito was 11-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 26 games (23 starts) last year for Double-A Somerset and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The organization’s No. 27 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Brito features an above-average changeup to go with a sinker, a four-seamer and a slider/cutter.

“I didn’t come into camp thinking there was a chance, but unfortunately, injuries do happen,” Brito said. “I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with some of those guys and they’ve been able to share a lot of knowledge with me. You understand you have a job to do and you want to be able to pitch when the team calls you.”

The Yankees plan to have start the second game of the regular season, and another hurler -- potentially Brito -- could be inserted to start against the Giants on April 2. Nestor Cortes is lined up to start against the Phillies on April 3.

Brito said that he feels ready for that opportunity, should it come.

“Last year in Triple-A was a great experience for me,” Brito said. “I got to face a lot of hitters with a lot of experience in the big leagues, and our team had really good players with a lot of experience. When you have teammates like that, it gives you a boost of confidence.”