TAMPA, Fla. — As Luis Severino went through his warmups on Sunday, he couldn’t help but think about the last time he tried going through his pre-start routine at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
It was March 5, 2019, and having won 19 games and earned his second straight All-Star selection the previous season, Severino was ready to take another step toward superstardom.
Instead, Severino felt discomfort in his shoulder after snapping off a slider, ending his spring before it had an opportunity to begin.
The right-hander went on to make just three starts in September 2019 before an elbow injury ultimately forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery in February 2020. Yet here he was, back on the same mound getting ready for his first start of a new spring, one that for Severino and the Yankees marks the beginning of the next chapter in the 28-year-old’s career.
“Today I felt more nervous than in my [debut] in 2015,” Severino said after the Yankees’ 8-7 loss to the Tigers. “I haven’t pitched in Spring Training since 2018, so just being here, whatever the result was, I was real happy. After I finished my bullpen, I feel relief.”
The result wasn’t great, though neither Severino nor manager Aaron Boone seemed remotely concerned. He allowed four earned runs on four hits and one walk, giving up a pair of runs in each of his two innings.
“Health-wise, I feel pretty solid,” Severino said. “My arm was feeling good. Results were not that good, but the good thing is I’m feeling healthy.”
Severino’s day started inauspiciously, as he walked leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman on four pitches, none of which were particularly close to the plate. He seemed to find that command quickly, fanning Akil Baddoo on three pitches, the punchout coming on a 97.4 mph called third strike.
Detroit tallied a pair of runs on RBI hits by Javier Báez and Spencer Torkelson, then scored two more in the second inning on a two-run homer by Grossman, who hammered a hanging slider over the center-field fence.
“I have time to work on pitches, and I know when I need it, my slider, my changeup and my fastball command will be there,” Severino said. “Today was more about feeling good.”
Severino’s fastball consistently hit 97-98 mph, while his slider looked good for the most part. Location was his biggest issue by far; he threw 13 balls and 25 strikes during his 38-pitch outing.
“Health and stuff,” Boone said when asked about the most important aspect of Severino’s spring. “What does the stuff look like? To me, he looks like Sevy. I thought just the few sliders that I noticed from the side, the depth was there. The velocity was there. He’s pitching free and easy. With your guys that you know have a track record of success in the league, physically seeing their stuff get to a certain point, being able to carry it and maintain it, that’s the biggest thing.”
The Yankees are relying on Severino to regain his pre-2019 form, when he made a pair of All-Star teams in 2017-18. Although another trade is possible — the A’s are said to be shopping Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas — the Yankees’ rotation currently consists of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Severino and Jordan Montgomery, while Nestor Cortes is the leading candidate for the No. 5 starter job.
Boone said he expects Severino to revert to his old form if he’s healthy.
“He’s been a great pitcher in this league,” Boone said. “He’s proved it, and now it’s about him going out there and being healthy, which I clearly think he is. If he does that, I won’t be surprised by anything he does from a ceiling standpoint.”
Severino believes he and Cole can form a lethal duo atop the rotation, though he paused when asked if they could challenge Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom of the Mets for the unofficial title of best 1-2 punch in the Majors.
“Scherzer and deGrom? I don’t know,” Severino said. “Cole is a great pitcher, and if I’m healthy, I know the kind of pitcher that I am. I’ll be excited to go behind him and [try] to match his games.”