Had the Yankees’ season gone according to plan, these final six weeks would have been about jockeying for playoff positioning and preparing for another October run.
Instead, it may end up being more about the future.
The Yankees are 6 ½ games back of the Blue Jays for the final AL wild-card spot with 41 games to go. Sure, anything is possible, but this roster has not given anyone much reason to believe that there really is a run in them.
With that in mind, here are the guys who have the most to play for and/or prove the rest of the season:
Not every four-inning, five-run outing is met with the same sense of encouragement that Severino’s start was on Tuesday.
But for the right-hander who lowered his ERA to 7.98 (only three of the five runs were earned), it did actually look like a step in the right direction.
“I felt like we were in a lot better headspace throughout that outing and then after the outing,” pitching coach Matt Blake said Wednesday. “We’re gaining ground on finding old Sevy in there. Much more conviction, getting swing-and-miss with the fastball, being in better areas and then being able to use the harder cutter as his secondary weapon.”
Severino, who is set to enter free agency after the season, has likely cost himself a large chunk of money with a brutal walk year. But the Yankees have continued to invest the time in trying to fix him, in part because he has the talent to be part of the turnaround they keep insisting could happen down the stretch.
On Tuesday against the Braves, Severino returned to the windup that he had ditched earlier this season, in hopes of giving himself more of a rhythm and getting more conviction behind his pitches, Blake said.
Severino also moved away from using his slider as often after a hanging one resulted in a three-run homer in the first inning. The slider accounted for just nine of his 83 pitches, the 10.8 percent usage marking the second-lowest this season (behind 6.3 percent on June 24, when he threw six scoreless innings against the Rangers).
Blake indicated that partly had to do with the Braves lineup but also was because Severino had a better feel for his cutter.
“We’ll see where we go from there,” Blake said.
Randy Vasquez/Jhony Brito
After turning in a solid, if abbreviated, start against the Braves, Vasquez was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday with Carlos Rodon set to return from the injured list next Tuesday. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Vasquez back in The Bronx at some point this season.
Brito, meanwhile, is set to get another start (or pitch behind an opener) on Friday against the Red Sox.
Both of the rookie right-handers have a chance to make impressions and get head starts on potentially staking a claim to a rotation spot for next year.
The Yankees’ 2024 rotation figures to include Gerrit Cole, Rodon, Clarke Schmidt and Nestor Cortes. That would leave a potential opening for Vasquez or Brito to fill, with another wild card being whether Cortes might ultimately need surgery on his rotator cuff (as of now, it has not been discussed, said the left-hander who is in the midst of a three-week shutdown).
In their respective cameos this season, Vasquez and Brito have shown glimpses of their potential while also serving reminders that neither is a finished product.
The Yankees have experimented with using openers ahead of both of them, but there is also value in letting them start and navigate major league lineups on their own.
“It’s one of those things we’re trying to wrestle with a little bit of: We’ve got a really strong bullpen, how do we best utilize them?” Blake said. “We’ve got two young starters who are trying to learn how to be starters at the major league level. So you kind of want to get them into a routine that they can repeat time after time.
“If you’re always kind of messing when they’re coming into the game and what that routine looks like, it’s not totally fair to them. Now obviously they’re up for it, they understand the task, they’re willing to be team guys. But I think in some sense, we do want to give them a semblance of, ‘This is what it’s like to be a major league starter, preparing for a team like the Atlanta Braves.’ I think there’s a lot to be said for being the guy that takes the ball first.”
The shortstop may not be putting the finishing touches on the Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign that some had him pegged for (ahem, I am among the guilty of being swayed by how he looked in spring training to win the starting job).
Nonetheless, it still has been a valuable development year for Volpe, which may ultimately be one of the most important things to come out of an otherwise disappointing season for the Yankees. Finishing it off on a high note and completing the grind of a 162-game season (he still has a chance to appear in all 162 games, by the way) is important.
The 22-year-old has been able to experience the ups and downs of a major league season, making some adjustments along the way that should benefit him in the long run. Since closing his stance in mid-June, Volpe has looked better at the plate, slashing .249/.332/.445 over his last 54 games.
Besides how he has handled the struggles mentally, the most impressive aspect of Volpe’s season has been his defense. His 12 Defensive Runs Saved, per Sports Info Solution’s Fielding Bible, were tied for the third-best among all shortstops.
At some point over the final six weeks, Pereira has a chance to make his MLB debut.
The outfield prospect has been making the most of his recent promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, putting himself in position to get a late-season run with the Yankees.
Not only could he potentially help fill the season-long hole in left field, but also get an early jump on trying to win a spot in left or center field for next season.
The 22-year-old was hitting .308 with a .877 OPS in 32 games at Triple-A entering Thursday.
Other candidates to join Pereira on the September shuttle from SWB to The Bronx include Oswald Peraza and Austin Wells.
Blast from the past
Andy Pettitte joined the Yankees for their series in Atlanta, working with pitchers during their pregame bullpen sessions, and is also expected to be in The Bronx for this upcoming homestand.
Pettitte, recently hired by the Yankees as a pitching adviser, already has been a valuable resource.
“I think it’s great for these guys because he obviously brings a completely different perspective than I do,” said Blake, who did not pitch past college.
“Obviously, [bullpen coach Mike] Harkey’s got some experience, but Andy’s been through it all as a starter, in this environment. I think everyone can relate to what he’s gone through here and he has a lot of experience that he can help share with them. Just a different set of eyes and language around how we’re discussing pitching in general.”
If you’re looking for bright spots down on the farm, keep an eye out for Drew Thorpe.
The 22-year-old right-hander, the Yankees’ second-round pick in 2022, was promoted to Double-A Somerset last week.
In his debut, he tossed eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine.
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