NEW YORK -- The first time Aaron Boone noticed Jhony Brito, the young right-hander was emptying his four-pitch mix in a Tampa, Fla., bullpen, popping the catcher’s glove with strike after strike.
From his perch behind the mound, the Yankees’ manager nudged a couple of coaches nearby and said: “He can help us.” Injuries to the rotation offered Brito an opportunity sooner than anyone anticipated, and the 25-year-old rose to the occasion.
“I always thought about having a good debut,” Brito said through an interpreter. “You have to be confident to do your job. If you start thinking about bad outcomes, that’s usually when things get out of hand. I’m very happy.”
Having secured the nod to fill in for injured veteran Luis Severino by returning from Minor League camp to retire all 16 Blue Jays in his final spring outing, Brito permitted just two hits in a 76-pitch effort, striking out six with one walk. Brito was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game, as the Yanks won’t need a fifth starter for their next turn through the rotation.
“He kept pounding the strike zone,” Boone said. “It was more of what we’ve seen. He was very at ease out there, very comfortable. It’s just a really good performance, and an important performance for us when we needed a little bit of length.”
Brito’s money pitch is an above-average changeup, and it gave the Giants fits. He leaned upon it heavily, using it 38 percent of the time (28 pitches; 22 strikes) and generating 10 swings and misses. All six of his strikeouts were finished by the changeup, including the first batter he faced, LaMonte Wade Jr.
“It just looks really similar to his fastball, probably more than most guys. It’s really hard to tell,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “His willingness to attack the zone is probably the most important thing. You have to trust your stuff and attack the zone, because Major League hitters are going to feel you out and see what you have. He did a great job.”
Rated as the Yankees’ No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Brito signed for $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, earning a reputation as one of the organization’s best strike-throwers. With Severino, Carlos Rodón and Frankie Montas shelved due to injuries, the steely Brito is expected to soon return to the Bronx.
Brito is just the fourth Yankee since the end of World War II to toss at least five scoreless innings in his Major League debut, joining Luis Gil (2021), Jonathan Loáisiga ('18) and Sam Militello (1992).
“I’ve got to thank my teammates,” Brito said. “They prepared me and gave me good pointers to understand that it’s the same kind of baseball that we’re going to play out there. It’s going to be a different stadium and definitely more fans, but I was not nervous.”
“They told me to keep focused on doing the same things I was doing in Spring Training, and everything would be fine,” Brito said.
Aaron Judge belted a solo homer, his second, before Stanton reached the standing-room area 485 feet from home plate with a jaw-dropping third-inning drive. Higashioka also homered for the Yanks, who added two late runs on an Anthony Rizzo sacrifice fly and a wild pitch that allowed Gleyber Torres to scamper home.
Of Brito, Stanton said: “He was fun to watch. He was big-time for us. It was good to get his first start the way he did and continue the success for him.”
Brito was awarded the wrestling-style championship belt after Sunday’s win, and when urged to speak to his teammates, he kept his remarks brief.
“I just gave them a big thank you for all the support and everything they’ve done for me,” Brito said. “They’ve accepted me into this clubhouse. They were happy; I was happy. It’s very exciting.”