Luis Severino has seen the best the AL East has to offer this month, and the rookie's trip through the division wringer is not over yet.
After failing a test against Toronto ace David Price and passing another opposite Tampa Bay All-Star Chris Archer, Severino looks to prevent the New York Yankees' division hopes from taking another blow against the Blue Jays and Marco Estrada on Tuesday night.
"It's very exciting. These are big games here," the 21-year-old Severino told MLB's official website.
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Wild card-leading New York (82-67) lost to Price, the AL ERA leader, for the third time since he joined Toronto with Monday's 4-2 series-opening defeat. The Blue Jays (86-64), who have won five of six against the Yankees and are 12-5 in the season series, pushed their division lead to 3 1/2 with 12 to play.
New York has 13 games left, the most important two to close this series.
"I think they're as important as any games we've played all year when you talk about trying to win the division," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You've got to keep it close."
Severino (4-3, 3.12 ERA) hopes to solve the lineup that has given him the most trouble. Toronto is the only team to score more than two runs against New York's prized pitching prospect since his debut in early August and did it twice, beating him in his third start and two weeks ago.
He has a 9.72 ERA in those two outings, compared to 1.54 in his other six. Toronto hitters hold a .324 batting average and 1.101 OPS against Severino with three two-run homers. Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak each hit one off him Sept. 11 as Severino was ripped for a career-high six runs in 2 1-3 innings of an 11-5 loss to Price.
The right-hander bounced back to outduel Archer and beat the Rays on Wednesday, giving up one run in 5 2-3 innings in a 3-1 win - his fifth start allowing one earned run or less.
Fellow rookie Greg Bird homered Monday for the fourth time during a career-best six-game hitting streak. Bird has nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 33 games filling in at first base for Mark Teixeira, who will miss the rest of the season with a fractured right leg.
Bird is hitless in five at-bats against Estrada (13-8, 3.14), the AL leader in opponent batting average at .206.
New York, though, has battered him for five home runs in the last two matchups, and he's 1-2 with a 4.09 ERA in four career starts against the Yankees - all this season. Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner and Chase Headley all took him deep Sept. 12, when Estrada gave up four runs in five innings of Toronto's 9-5, 11-inning victory.
Estrada regrouped Thursday with eight stellar innings in a 5-0 win over Atlanta, surrendering three hits, and doesn't feel any added pressure going into this matchup.
"When it's my day to pitch, I'm pretty calm," Estrada said. "I come in and don't think of it as any type of a bigger game."
Among his bigger concerns will be Carlos Beltran, who has homered three times in 22 at-bats against him, and Brian McCann, who is 7 for 17 (.412) versus Estrada. Jacoby Ellsbury is 4 for 12 against him this year and enters on a 9-for-20 tear.
Jose Bautista, who homered off Severino last month, continues to torment the Yankees as he went 2 for 4 with an RBI on Monday. He's hit safely in the teams' last 11 meetings, batting .386 with five homers and 11 RBIs.