Luis Severino’s return from season-long injury struggles cannot come soon enough for the New York Yankees.
Next up for the 25-year-old is a rehab assignment, which would put his return towards the end of the month. It could also be pushed to early September.
However, the Yankees, and of course, their fans, would prefer Severino to be back sooner. Veteran lefty CC Sabathia returned from his nagging knee injury Sunday and was ineffective in three innings of work. New York lost to the Cleveland Indians 8-4.
Meanwhile, the rest of the staff too has been touch and go all season long. The starters haven’t inspired much hope for a deep postseason run.
There’s still time to right the pitching ship but make no mistake, without Luis Severino, the Yankees’ chances of winning it all go down.
Already an Ace
Severino is so valuable to the Yankees because, despite his age, he already has the poise and demeanor of an ace. He’s 33-14 with a 3.14 ERA the past two years along with 450 strikeouts in 384.2 innings and has a nice arsenal of pitches. His fastball can touch 100 mph and he also mixes in a strong slider and changeup.
“But wait,” some of you devoted readers are surely thinking. “Severino was awful in the second half and playoffs last year. Why is he so important now?”
This is sad, but true. Severino’s second half was uglier than Shrek. He was 5-6 with a 5.57 ERA in 12 starts compared to 14-2 with a 2.31 mark in 20 first-half starts. The shift was attributed to Severino tipping pitches. This was clear when the young righty gave up six runs in three innings in a playoff start versus the Boston Red Sox.
Despite that, the Yankees had faith Severino would bounce back in top form. He signed a four-year, $40 million extension in Spring Training. He also showed up 15 pounds lighter, explaining he changed his diet to avoid what Boone called “fatigue issues” last season.
Unfortunately, Severino never got a chance in Spring Training. He strained his lat minutes before his first start, suffered some setbacks, and here we are today.
And Yankees fans, now is when we need a healthy Luis Severino the most.
Save the Rotation
The Yankees’ pitching staff currently ranks 15th in MLB with a 4.47 ERA, smack dab in the middle of the pack. By comparison, the dangerous Justin Verlander-led Houston Astros rank fourth with a mark of 3.76.
This disparity isn’t a death sentence because anything can happen in the playoffs, but New York would have serious concerns if the playoffs began tomorrow. Domingo German, great as he’s been, has never dealt with the pressure of October. James Paxton has been better as of late but owns an 11.05 ERA in the first inning. Sabathia is basically pitching on one good leg and J.A. Happ is hot and cold.
That leaves Masahiro Tanaka as the sole truly reliable arm in the rotation, and even he has been streaky this year. The Yankees’ offense ranks first in runs scored, but is the lineup good enough to compensate for shaky pitching? And keep in mind, the Yankees’ strong bullpen can only handle so much work.
Enter Luis Severino who, even this late in the season, provides a much-needed boost.
The Long Game
Now, let’s make one thing clear: Severino, despite progress in his rehab, still hasn’t played this season. Between his long absence and the in-game pressure, he won’t be able to eat six innings from the get-go. No, he’ll probably be on a strict pitch count which is gradually monitored and increased.
This isn’t ideal, but the last thing the Yankees need is Severino getting hurt again. Better for him to max out at four to five innings, before handing the ball to someone like Chad Green who can go an inning or more.
One way or another, Severino in (hopefully) top form will soon be back in the rotation, and it gives the Yankees options. Maybe Happ will be sent to the bullpen to work out his issues or, perhaps, Sabathia will.
Either way, Severino’s return gives New York something to do besides cross its fingers before each starter takes his turn.
The good news for the Yankees is, for all the pitching staff’s shortcomings, the offense is that good. The lineup has a Rocky Marciano-like chin and can turn a game on its head with one swing.
But baseball is not a one-sided game and even the strongest lineups can be tamed. The pitching too must be strong and without Luis Severino, this staff needs a lot to go right.
With him, however, it would have a known shutdown arm who can quiet hot bats. With the playoffs around the corner, here’s hoping Severino has a smooth road back.