Luis Severino deserves this elite pitching honor

PHILADELPHIA — Last July 11 at Marlins Park, as the All-Star Game turned to the bottom of the 10th inning, Luis Severino warmed up in the bullpen.

That proved to be as close as the Yankees right-hander got to the Midsummer Classic. His former Yankees teammate, Andrew Miller, put up a zero to back up the solo homer Severino’s fellow Dominican Republic native Robinson Cano had slugged in the top of the 10th. The American League secured a 2-1 victory. For Severino, a first-time All-Star, it became the equivalent of an initiation.

Now, can the Yankees’ ace leap from the AL’s pitcher in reserve to their first pitcher?

With three starts left, beginning with Sunday night against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, before the interleague exhibition on July 17 at Nationals Park, you could contend that Severino sits in the co-driver’s seat, at least, to get the AL starting assignment. What the heck, I’ll contend it myself.

He’s really matured in a lot of different ways,” Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson, who worked as a Yankees coach during Severino’s first three seasons in the majors, said Wednesday, before the Yankees dropped the series finale, 3-0, at Citizens Bank Park. “Not only as a pitcher, but as a leader of a staff. He’s a really special arm.”

“He’s had a really good first half, and that speaks for itself,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “And his numbers don’t lie.”

Let’s look at those numbers: After mowing down Thomson’s Phillies Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 6-0 victory, Severino led all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, whether you want to lean on the calculation used by Baseball-Reference.com (4.5) or FanGraphs (4.2), entering Wednesday’s action. He ranked second with a 2.10 ERA, first with a 2.21 FIP, third in innings pitched (111 ²/₃), fifth in strikeouts-to-walks (5.077) and second in home runs per nine innings (.484). In all, it represents quite the impressive résumé; while he paces the AL with 12 wins, that shouldn’t be a factor, what with new-age Astros manager A.J. Hinch leading the AL club.

Will Hinch look to reward his own guy, Justin Verlander, who has started one All-Star Game (2012) already? It would be quite merited at this juncture, as Verlander topped everyone with a 1.82 ERA and 113²/₃ innings pitched.

Interestingly, it looks like none of the top competitors for this honor — Severino, Verlander, the Indians’ Corey Kluber and the Red Sox’s Chris Sale — will be eliminated by their pitching schedule, barring weather or injury changes. None of the quartet is on pace to start for his team on Sunday, July 15, which by rule would take him off the All-Star Game’s active roster.

The Yankees are skipping over rookie Domingo German, who pitched an inning of relief Wednesday, to have Severino go on his normal four days’ rest Sunday against their rivals.

“I think that’s fair to say we want him to go against Boston,” Aaron Boone said.

That sort of dependability, of star power, makes Severino even more alluring as an All-Star Game starter. Although you could say the same about Verlander, a likely future Hall of Famer; Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner; and Sale, the Red Sox’s ace. Hinch can’t go wrong choosing from this group.

So why should Severino get the assignment? Because Verlander and Sale (2016 and 2017) already have done so — now that the game no longer determines home-field advantage for the World Series, we needn’t pretend that stakes exist — and because Severino, as long as he can keep it up, is having a slightly better season than Kluber.

Starting the game, Severino said, “would mean a lot. Last year, I didn’t even pitch. Just to be there and be part of the game, that would be perfect.”

He’ll be part of the game, surely. Barring a massive backslide in the short term, he has earned the right to be a big part of the game.

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