Luis Severino is not the same person who made his debut here at Yankee Stadium. Since September 2019, Severino has been through major surgery, a bunch of nagging injuries and a journey to become a better and more enduring pitcher.
“And I also have two other children now,” Severino said with a laugh on Friday morning.
After throwing just 27.2 innings over the past three seasons, Severino made his first start at the stadium – since September 22, 2019 – on Saturday afternoon. It was a big moment for him personally, to be back on the big stage after a long run through injuries. It was also a big moment for the Yankees, who haven’t spent on free-agent pitchers this winter and need Severino to be the same caliber pitcher he was before the injuries began.
In some ways, however, Severino feels like a better pitcher.
“My last start here, when I was healthy, I used to come here and spend five minutes in the gym and walk out after. Right now I have to spend an hour getting ready,” Severino said “But since my last start here, I’ve had a lot of different pitches. I’m throwing a little cutter now… I have two different breaking balls, like a short one then a big one. And my change evolved differently than before. I have a little sink movement on it.
“So I think if I can put all those pieces together in one day, I think I can pull it off.”
It’s been a while, but Severino was a very capable pitcher before injuries hit him. In 2018, he finished in the top 10 in Cy Young’s vote. In his first 18 starts, the right-hander threw a 1.98 ERA in 118.1 innings. He had a .195 batting average against, allowed only six home runs and averaged nearly 10 strikeouts per game.
In an 11-start streak late this season, Severino threw just 55.1 innings, going 4-5 with a 6.83 ERA and a startling .323 batting average against. He allowed 13 homers during that span. The following spring, he signed a four-year, $40 million extension, through 2022, with a club option for $15 million and a $2.75 million buyout after that season.
Considering the brilliance he displayed in the first part of the 2018 season, it was a very team-friendly deal.
But just weeks after signing him, Severino was busted with a shoulder problem that turned out to be a side tear that kept him out of the big leagues for five months. He pitched in the 2019 playoffs, felt tightness in his forearm and required Tommy John surgery in March 2020. He missed the entire COVID-abbreviated 2020 season and his 2021 comeback was delayed by a groin injury and then shoulder tightness.
Severino threw 7.1 innings last year out of the bullpen, leading the Yankees to believe he could return to an elite level.
“I think it was important,” manager Aaron Boone said. “First and foremost it helped us that he shot really well and played a significant role for us when we needed to win. So I think that was good. And probably gave him a little more confidence, peace of mind before winter.
“Now it’s just about working and taking care of him and getting ready to start again, but I think it had a lot of value.”
And now the Yankees need to see how much they can get from Severino. Having pitched just 27.2 innings in the past three years, they need to be careful about increasing his workload. Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake said they will be flexible with his workload this season.
“Hopefully it’s not too different from what we saw with (Corey) Kluber and (Jameson Taillon) last year,” Blake said, “in terms of just trying to handle the load of general work through outings and days off and things like that. So I don’t know if we have an expectation for him. … It’s even hard to point to a number of places where we end up .
“I just think we’re kind of continuing to monitor the situation and if we have to, we’ll be realistic about giving him a break when we need to do things along those lines.”