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Luis Severino prefers starting, but he's ready to contribute out of bullpen

Luis Severino of the New York Yankees pitches

Luis Severino of the New York Yankees pitches during the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

BOSTON — Luis Severino smiled as he started to answer the question, which was:

What do you like about coming out of the bullpen?

"I really don't like the bullpen," Severino said Saturday . . . after coming out of the bullpen and striking out four in two scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 5-3 victory over the Red Sox.

Severino, who recently returned from the injured list after recovering from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in February 2020, is for the moment reprising the bullpen role he filled for Joe Girardi in September 2016.

Then 22, Severino — who because of poor performance and then injury lost his rotation spot — posted a 0.39 ERA in 11 relief appearances, allowing eight hits in 23 1/3 innings.

There was some conjecture — though never from the Yankees — about Severino, then unproven as a starter, potentially being a better fit as a reliever.

"You have to be patient. He should just be getting out of college is the bottom line," Girardi said in spring training 2017. "We still envision him as a starter. There’s nothing telling us that he’s not."

Severino won back his starting job in spring training that year and went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA, earning the first of back-to-back All-Star bids. He was 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 2018.

Now 27, he is viewed as a starter only but is nowhere near stretched out enough to start. Nonetheless, he could be a critical arm for Aaron Boone in the final week of the season.

Boone’s bullpen of late has been held together with bailing wire and duct tape, so the more quality arms the better, and Severino showed Saturday that his arm appears to have plenty in it.

With his fastball sitting at 97 mph and a nasty changeup that’s been a work in progress, Severino kept the Yankees, who trailed 2-1, in the game. After striking out Bobby Dalbec on a slider to start the seventh, he walked Kevin Plawecki. Severino got Jose Iglesias to bounce into a forceout, then struck out Kike Hernandez swinging at a changeup.

That kept the Yankees within striking distance, and Giancarlo Stanton did the striking in the eighth, hitting a grand slam that produced a 5-2 lead.

Severino came back in the bottom half, striking out Hunter Renfroe with a 97-mph heater before hitting Rafael Devers. Xander Bogaerts flied out to left and Severino struck out J.D. Martinez swinging at a changeup to complete the shutdown inning.

"It was awesome. It was big, man," Boone said. "Two innings there, ends up going through their big boys, too. Just a great job by him. Thought he threw the ball really well . . . You could tell he relished in being out there in this kind of atmosphere and this kind of game with a lot on the line. Another huge step for him in making his way back."

It had been a long way back for Severino, who twice over the summer was on the cusp of returning but suffered setbacks. A groin injury in June delayed his comeback and right shoulder tightness in August delayed him further.

He finally returned last Tuesday, pitching two innings against the Rangers. He has struck out six, allowed two hits and walked one in four scoreless innings.

Coming out of the bullpen is a part of Severino’s present only, the expectation being he’ll be a rotation staple again in 2022.

Which doesn't mean he doesn’t see a value in what he can provide in a relief role.

"I love starting, but right now [this is] the situation," Severino said. "The bullpen all year long has been the key for this team, and being there with those guys and trying to help the team . . . That’s big, being able to come through in big situations."

And this week, there likely will be more of those.

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