Based on their overall record, one might surmise the Yankees haven’t missed Luis Severino this season.
They are tied with the Astros for the best record in the major leagues at 98-53. Their magic number to clinch their first AL East title since 2012 is three.
But even considering the second-half emergence of James Paxton and Domingo German’s surprising breakout season, that record is far more reflective of one of the deepest bullpens in baseball and, of course, an offense that ranks second in the majors with 286 homers.
Still, when Severino makes his 2019 debut Tuesday night against the Angels in the opener of a six-game homestand, there will be a feeling in the clubhouse of the Yankees being close to “whole” again, an unusual sensation for a team that’s been bitten by injuries all season.
As catcher Austin Romine put it: “We’re getting our guy back.”
Severino, out since March with right shoulder inflammation and a severe lat strain suffered early in his rehab process, was 33-14 with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 450 strikeouts in 384 2/3 innings the previous two seasons.
“This is a guy that, the last couple of years, obviously has been in the Cy Young conversation, this is a guy that’s a potential ace,” Aaron Boone said. “This is a guy that’s not only important in the short term to us but our long-term planning… You miss those kind of big innings, big outings a guy like that can give you and how he affects the rest of the staff as well. We’ve missed another great pitcher capable of matching up with other great pitchers around the league.”
Severino, 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA and 220 strikeouts in 191 1/3 innings last season, signed a four-year, $40 million extension in mid-February to avoid an arbitration hearing that neither he nor the Yankees wanted. He entered spring training with Cy Young expectations, but he felt discomfort while warming up in the bullpen before his spring training debut March 5 against the Braves, didn’t take the mound that afternoon and has been out ever since.
It has been a slow road back. No wonder he used the word “excited” multiple times over the weekend in Toronto after rejoining the Yankees.
“It’s been a long wait, but it happened,” Severino said. “I’m happy that I’m healthy and I’m going to be able to help my team.”
What kind of pitcher should fans expect to see?
“The same guy that they’ve been watching all the past years,” Severino said. “Electric guy. I’m going to attack hitters and try to do my best to win games.”
Severino made three rehab starts in the minors, the last coming Sept. 11 for Double-A Trenton. In that outing, rival scouts had his fastball sitting at 96 to 97 mph and touching 98, not far off from a peak Severino, whose fastball regularly sits at 98 mph and occasionally hits 100.
“My arm strength was there, I touched 98,” Severino said. “And my secondary pitches were there. My slider was there and also my changeup. So I just need to go out and work.”
Severino, on a pitch count of 70 to 80 on Tuesday, will have three starts to continue building his arm strength and be ready for October. How the Yankees use him then will be determined in the coming weeks, but as Romine and Boone indicated, the team’s feeling is it’s about to get a significant boost. Just as it did in Toronto with the return of Dellin Betances, who represents yet another power arm out of the bullpen, and Jordan Montgomery, not as likely to be an October option but another healthy pitcher nonetheless.
“We’re getting back one of the best pitchers in the league,” Aaron Judge said of Severino. “Like I’ve said, that’s our trade deadline right there, having an ace like that. A big bullpen arm [Betances] … We’re getting excited seeing those guys coming back.”