NEW YORK -- Somewhat uncharacteristically, manager Joe Girardi delivered his end-of-the-season address before the season was actually over, presumably not wanting to schlep back to Yankee Stadium later this week to rehash a 2016 season that by just about any known New York Yankees yardstick has to be judged a huge disappointment.
Among the subjects Girardi touched upon prior to Sunday's game were his job security, the challenge of managing young players next season, the improvement he saw in Masahiro Tanaka this season, and the emotions he expected to see Sunday afternoon from Mark Teixeira, who was honored before the season finale against the Baltimore Orioles, after which Teixeira is heading into retirement.
All of Girardi's answers were within the expected norms -- except for a question regarding pitcher Luis Severino, the rookie sensation of 2015 who became a sophomore cipher in 2016.
For the first time, the Yankees manager acknowledged the possibility that the 22-year-old right-hander might wind up having a successful career out of the bullpen.
Asked if Severino's 2016 numbers (3-8, 5.83 ERA) had changed the way he views the pitcher, Girardi said, "I don’t think it’s changed my expectations. It’s really up to him -- the way he pitches and the way he goes about his business as a starter -- if he’s going to be a starter."
It appears the Yankees think Severino carries a different mindset to the mound as a starter than he does as a reliever, and the numbers bear that out. In 11 starts, Severino was 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA. After being sent down to Triple-A, he returned as a different pitcher out of the bullpen, going 3-0 with a microscopic 0.36 ERA. And with Dellin Betances struggling in the closer's role as the season wore on, it could be that Severino's career arc will mimic that of Mariano Rivera, who after failing as a starter was moved to the Yankees’ bullpen, first as a setup man for John Wetteland in 1996 and then as the closer, a role Rivera performed better than anyone in baseball history for the next 17 seasons.
Unlike Rivera, who got more out of one pitch (his extraordinary cutter) than most pitchers do with a full repertoire, Severino has four pitches, which seems to indicate he is still suited for starting.
"(As a starter), his fastball command becomes extremely important, his changeup becomes important, his slider is much improved," Girardi said. "Now you have a thought that if he’s not able to be a starter, there might be another way you can get a lot of value out of him. That’s the way you look at it, but my expectation is he’s still going to be a starter."
Presented with the failure of the Yankees to establish Joba Chamberlain as a starter through several false starts, Girardi rejected the notion that the Yankees need to make a decision on Severino's role relatively quickly. “He’s fairly young," Girardi said. "He’s going to make the statement. We’ll evaluate it next spring, where we think he’s at."
A few other tidbits from Girardi on Sunday:
On his future as Yankees manager after his third non-playoff season in the last four years: "Never worry about it. Don’t worry about it. That’s been my life. I believe that God’s in charge of my life. Bottom line."
On managing young players as opposed to older players: "I think you manage each year, every group, somewhat differently because there’s different types of players. But yes, obviously with older players, they’ve been through a lot more. They’ve been through a lot more experiences. You have a history of how they handle those experiences and maybe handle slumps or a couple of bad starts in a row. With younger players, you don’t have that history and you’re not sure how they’re going to react and what they’re capable of doing in a big situation -- how they’re going to handle it. It is different, but again, you manage all groups different depending on what your strengths and weaknesses are."
On Tanaka, who missed a start due to a forearm strain last week and was shut down when the Yankees were eliminated from the wild-card hunt: "I think what he improved on was the amount of innings in his starts (an MLB-career-high of 199 2/3) and staying healthy. I think that was clearly a big improvement. We didn’t have to shut him down. He would have pitched (Saturday) if it meant something for our club. So I think that’s a big improvement. And just to keep moving forward in that sense. I thought he pitched well. But a guy you can count on for 200-plus innings every year I think is the big thing."
On whether the Yankees need to shop for a starting pitcher in the offseason: "If players stay healthy, I think you probably have enough starting pitching. But that doesn't happen very often. I’m sure we will look into that this winter."
On where things went wrong this season: "At different times it was different phases. I could go in any order. At times we didn’t field well. At times we didn’t hit. At times we didn’t pitch well. It was a group effort. We didn’t get it done. And we need to get better."
On whether he would have done anything different: "No, because I don’t have hindsight. I make decisions based in real time. I make decisions based on information that I have. And then you have to deal with the human element of it. Every play, every pitch, you could second-guess if you wanted to. But I don’t think, as a player or a manager, you live to where that makes a lot of sense because we have to do that in real time, and we don’t get do-overs."
On the Yankees future of Brian McCann, who has been replaced as the everyday catcher by Gary Sanchez: "I’m hoping to use him in a lot of different ways. Getting his bat into the lineup, his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, having him catch. This is a guy that takes a lot of pride in that. Understands how to work young pitchers, old pitchers. He understands that, so this is a guy that’s in our plans. He might move around and do different things, but we want his bat."
And on what he expected to see from Teixeira, who is in the lineup Sunday batting fifth and playing first base in his final big league game: "I saw him earlier today and he was smiling and seemed very happy. And I think this day is going to be filled with every type of emotion. I think there’s going to be happiness. There’s going to be sadness. I think there’s going to be an appreciation for having the opportunity to play this game and play here and play in front of these fans. He seems to be in really good spirits. Obviously, you’d love to see him go out on a good note, and to be able to end on a base hit, I think, would be great. So he is in there, and he is ready to go."