NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino, two of the Yankees’ biggest disappointments last year, combined to push them over .500 for the first time this season.
Hicks homered twice, including a go-ahead, two-run drive in the seventh inning , and Severino won as a starter for the first time since September 2015 in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night that completed a three-game sweep.
Severino was 0-8 as a starter last year and winless in his previous 13 starts. The 23-year-old right-hander, who impressed in going 5-3 during the final two months of the 2015 season, had wondered whether the Yankees saw his future in the bullpen.
Severino (1-0) struck out a career-high 11 in seven innings , including four of his last five batters. He allowed two runs, five hits and one walk as New York won its fourth in a row following a 1-4 start.
“Tonight he showed us what he’s capable of doing,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Expected to be a key part of the rotation last year, Severino was demoted to the minors in May and split time between the bullpen and rotation when he returned.
“Sometimes I tried to overthrow it to make it perfect,” he said. “This year I’m trying to throw more changeups and command my fastball better.”
Acquired from Minnesota in November 2015, Hicks hit .217 with 31 RBIs in a miserable first season with New York. He was beaten out by Aaron Judge for the right fielder’s job during spring training.
“Of course it took me a couple of days when you get disappointments like that,” Hicks said.
Starting because of an injury to Brett Gardner, Hicks improved his average to .313 with five RBIs.
Girardi remembered back to his conversation with Hicks last month.
“I saw the disappointment in his face. It wasn’t easy, because I thought he had a pretty good spring training, too, and I just said you’re opportunities are going to come and you’ve just got to make sure that you’re ready,” Girardi said. “I give him a lot of credit because I thought he turned the page really quickly.”
Hicks homered in the first off Matt Andriese batting left-handed and connected right-handed against Xavier Cedeno to erase a 2-1 deficit. Ronald Torreyes singled with one out in the seventh off Erasmo Ramirez, and Rays manager Kevin Cash brought in Cedeno (1-1), the only lefty in his bullpen. Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a forceout, and Hicks sent a changeup into the left-field seats.
“My arm is good shape and, obviously, my pitches are not where I want them to be,” Cedeno said. “It’ll probably get better — I mean it has to get better in the next few days.”
Dellin Betances pitched out of trouble in the eighth after Jesus Sucre walked and took third on Corey Dickerson’s single. Betances froze Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria with sliders for called third strikes, then picked up Brad Miller’s slow roller to the right side and tagged him just before first base.
Aroldis Chapman reached 100 mph on nine of 20 pitches in the ninth, when he allowed Logan Morrison’s one-out single, threw a called third strike past Daniel Robertson and retired Peter Bourjos on a flyout.
Tampa Bay batters struck out 15 times as the Rays dropped to 5-5.
Sucre’s two-out RBI single tied the score in the second and Bourjos homered in the fifth, two innings after he entered because of Mallex Smith’s tight right hamstring.
When the sweep was over, Rays manager Kevin Cash expressed confidence in Cedeno and his team.
“He’s just in one of those little funks right now,” he said. “He’ll work through it.”
The Yankee Stadium scoreboard flashed flames each time it revealed a velocity of 100 mph or more for Chapman.
Cedeno said he saw a signal that the infield would be back before turning to second on Gardner’s seventh-inning comebacker Wednesday and realizing the fielders had moved in and no one was covering the base. Cedeno bounced a rushed throw to first for an error as Gardner and Rickie Weeks Jr. collided, and the go-ahead run scored.
“I should have stepped off the rubber and looked back and see where the infielders were,” Cedeno said. “I totally take the blame for it.”
Gardner (bruised jaw, sore neck) and Weeks (bruised right shoulder joint) didn’t play. Gardner passed a concussion protocol. “My baseline was probably pretty low in the first place,” he quipped and then added of Weeks: “I picked a bad guy to run into.” Weeks, like Gardner, maintained he could play Thursday if needed. “I’m happy to be alive right now,” he said.
Rays: Smith said he felt his hamstring tighten during a rundown in the second. “I don’t think this will keep me sidelined for too long,” he added.
Yankees: 1B Greg Bird started after missing four games because of a sore right ankle and a stomach ailment and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, dropping to 1 for 20 this season.
Rays: Chris Archer (1-0) went ahead of the team by train to Boston for Friday’s matchup against the Red Sox and RHP Rick Porcello (1-0).
Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (0-1) takes an 11.74 ERA over two starts into Friday night’s game against St. Louis and RHP Michael Wacha (1-0).