Luis Severino
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Yankees are finally getting their ace, Luis Severino, back and at the best possible time with the playoffs on the horizon.

Josh Benjamin

At long last, Luis Severino is coming home.

The New York Yankees ace will make his season debut Tuesday versus the Los Angeles Angels. He won’t be going full bore on the mound, but it doesn’t matter. The young righty is returning healthy to help the team during the home stretch before the playoffs.

For the Yankees and their deep (but tired) bullpen, Severino’s return is a godsend. He hasn’t pitched all season due to a shoulder injury initially suffered in Spring Training. Were it not for a pair of setbacks, Severino probably would have returned around the All-Star Break.

The point is the Yankees have their ace back at the perfect time. If he’s fully healthy and pitching well, it could soon mean big things in the Bronx.

First things first

As was mentioned earlier, Luis Severino will return Tuesday night to start against the Los Angeles Angels. Taken on its face, it doesn’t mean much. The Yankees already took three of four from the Angels in Anaheim back in April, and Los Angeles is well out of the playoff race at 67-82.

Not only that, but the Angels won’t come to New York at full capacity. The team announced Sunday the MVP candidate would miss the rest of the season to undergo foot surgery. He was hitting .291 with 45 home runs and 101 RBI so even on a bad team, Trout is a significant loss.

This means the Angels, who have lost six of their last seven, will enter New York wounded badly. The star player is done for the year. The pitching staff ranks 24th in MLB with a staff ERA of 5.09.

Simply put, there is no reason whatsoever Luis Severino won’t kick off his return on the right foot. He’s unlikely to last more than three, maybe four innings, but it’s fine. All he has to do is look sharp in what is, essentially, a tuneup game before the real competition begins.

At which point, the Severino of opposing hitters’ nightmares may come out to play.

Secret playoff weapon

Now, let’s talk about what Luis Severino’s return means for the Yankees in the playoffs. As of now, the pitching rotation for October is pretty crowded. James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are locked, but everyone after them doesn’t have as clear a role.

CC Sabathia has plenty of experience and success in the playoffs, but his balky right knee means he can only go so long on the mound. J.A. Happ, though he has finally turned around to a 1.06 ERA this month, is pitching through biceps tendinitis. Domingo German is an 18-game winner, but his recent appearance in relief of Sabathia suggests he could be on an innings limit.

And where does this all leave Luis Severino, who struggled in the second half and playoffs last year due to tipping his pitches? Well, there’s a million-dollar question worthy of Regis Philbin himself. Severino is ready to pitch, but shoulders are tricky. The Yankees likely won’t ask him for five or six innings for fear of him hurting himself again.

This means manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have options. Perhaps Severino will start the game and pitch three innings before handing the ball to Sabathia, German, or someone else entirely.

In another scenario, Severino may not even start at all. Chad Green could easily serve as an opener for an inning or two before Severino takes over. Boone even said it was “certainly possible” the Yankees used an opener in the playoffs, and the timing of Severino’s return gives him a good reason to do it.

New York Yankees

What really matters

But however the Yankees opt to use Luis Severino in the playoffs, having him come back at this point already gives the Bronx Bombers a key advantage.

Consider this. Baseball’s season is long. Fatigue sets in at some point, regardless of if a team is a championship contender or cellar-dweller. But on winning teams, keeping pitchers fresh for the playoffs is tough. It could mean giving them an extra day of rest or skipping their turn in the rotation entirely.

Sure, a pitcher may win 20 games and look like a Cy Young candidate all season long, but the playoffs could undo them. Just ask Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who posted a 1.77 ERA in 2014 before going 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in the postseason the same year.

Severino owns a 6.26 career playoff ERA, but this year is different. There won’t be any miscommunication over a game’s start time. The black cloud of second-half struggles won’t be hanging over his head.

No, Luis Severino will enter the postseason healthy and, more importantly, rested. Other pitchers will have 100-plus innings on their arms, but not Severino.

By the time the playoffs begin, he’ll still just be getting his best work started. For the New York Yankees, this puts the World Series within reach even more.

Final thoughts

This isn’t to say the Yankees’ World Series hopes hinge on Severino performing well upon returning. He’ll certainly need a short amount of time to get his wheels under him, which makes sense since he’s only just ended his rehab.

The good news is the Yankees don’t need Severino in ace form. At this point, they just need him to be able to go a few innings before handing the ball to the next man up. The team’s pitching depth is there and becomes deadlier once starters like Happ or Sabathia become relievers.

It’s taken Luis Severino longer than expected to return to the mound. On Tuesday, and deep into the postseason, he will show why the comeback was worth the wait.

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