WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Though the Yankees never stated it outright, when Luis Severino entered spring training, one of the two open rotation jobs basically was his to lose.
He might have taken a step toward doing that Sunday against the Astros.
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Severino, coming off his best outing of spring training Tuesday in Port Charlotte against the Rays, was tagged for three runs and six hits in 3 1⁄3 innings of relief in a 6-4 victory at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“Bad command,” Severino said. “I was missing a lot.”
Meanwhile, Adam Warren, thought to be a shoo-in for a bullpen role even as he competes for one of those rotation spots, continues to give the Yankees something to think about.
Warren started Sunday and allowed one run, four hits and a walk in 3 2⁄3 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.09 in four outings.
“I’ve seen him do it in the rotation, too, a couple years ago,” Joe Girardi said, referencing Warren’s 2015 season, when he excelled in relief but also went 6-6 with a 3.66 ERA in 17 starts. “He locates, he’s got four pitches, he’s going to throw strikes. He’s going to be down in the zone, so it’s something we really have to consider.”
Severino’s inability to keep the ball down, especially his fastball, has plagued him since spring training last year. His difficulties with fastball command led to an inconsistent exhibition season, which carried over into the regular season. He lost his rotation spot, and his big-league roster spot, after going 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA in his first seven starts.
Except for the start against the Rays, it again has been a problem.
“Everything works off his fastball,” one opposing team scout said after Severino’s outing. “When he doesn’t command that, he gets lost in hitters’ counts . . . Still has a very good arm, though.”
Some terrific late-season work in the bullpen (a 0.39 ERA with eight hits allowed, an 0.77 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 23 1⁄3 innings) contributed to some chatter that Severino’s future might be as a reliever, but the Yankees consistently have maintained that they view him as a starter. (He finished 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP in 47 2⁄3 innings in that role in 2016.)
So if Severino doesn’t make the rotation, will the Yankees send him to the minors to work out his command issues?
“That’s a million-dollar question that we’re going to have to talk about,” Girardi said. “You talk about trying to finish off people’s development, but you also talk about winning . . . I still consider him a starter.”
And with quality starters being more difficult to find than good one-inning relievers, the Yankees don’t seem ready to declare Severino — who has a high-90s fastball, an at-times plus slider and a rapidly improving changeup — a reliever.
“You try to do whatever you can,” Girardi said of exhausting every last angle in trying to develop Severino into a starter. “But sometimes you can do that out of a bullpen with a guy. Teams did it for years.”
After his first start of spring training, Feb. 25 in Clearwater against the Phillies, Warren said his past success as a swing-man probably meant he’d end up in that role regardless of his performance in spring training. But his goal was to make the call a difficult one for the Yankees, something he thinks he’s done.
“I think for me, part of my strength is being consistent,” Warren said. “I know they like me in the bullpen as well, but I want to make this as tough a decision as possible.”