TAMPA, Fla. — Luis Severino enjoyed a breakthrough 2017, finishing third in American League Cy Young voting. He’s set the bar higher for this season. The righthander wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Corey Kluber of the Indians and Chris Sale of the Red Sox, established pitchers who finished ahead of him in the Cy Young vote.
“If I set my mind from the beginning of the season that I have to be better than those two guys, I’m going to be something else,” Severino said Tuesday after a workout at the Yankees’ minor-league complex. “I just want to focus on my game. At the end of the season we’ll see where we’re at.”
Where Severino was at the end of last season was the no-doubt ace of the Yankees’ staff. He shrugged off a disappointing 2016 in which he lost his rotation spot in May and spent nearly two months in the minors. He went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA last year, his first full season in the big leagues. He ranked third in the AL in ERA and WHIP (1.040) and fourth in strikeouts (230).
“It was great, not just for me, but the whole team,” said Severino, who turns 24 Feb. 20. “We made it to the playoffs and were one game away from the World Series. 2016 was a bad year, so I worked on the little things I needed to work on — fastball command, my changeup. My confidence was way up in 2017 and we had a great season.”
There is concern about how Severino’s arm will respond to throwing a career-high 193 1⁄3 innings last season, 209 1⁄3 counting the playoffs, but he said he isn’t worried. He said he ramped up his workout schedule during the winter before last season, anticipating an innings bump. Severino stayed strong throughout the season, wowing opposing batters and his teammates by showing little to no dip in velocity. More often than not, Severino came out throwing 97 to 100 mph and was still doing that as his pitch count reached 90.
“I feel good right now,” said Severino, who for the second straight winter worked on his mechanics with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in their native Dominican Republic. “I did the same workout I did last year to keep my arm healthy.”
Severino did say that as a nod to the innings increase he started his throwing program about a month later than the previous winter, when he began in November.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he hasn’t seen any indication of wear and tear on Severino because of the 2017 innings. “He’s not showing any signs, but it’s obviously early,” Rothschild said Tuesday. “We’re aware of what he’s done and what we need to do to try and make sure we keep him strong.”
And keeping on the upward trajectory into the elite of AL pitchers.
Asked what Severino can improve upon, Rothschild said: “Consistency, just executing pitches probably at a higher rate. But you can’t really get too deep into nitpicking what he did last year because he was good almost all year.”
The Yankees’ rotation, led by Severino, looks fairly strong, but general manager Brian Cashman has made no secret about wanting to improve it.
“I’m comfortable with them because that’s what’s here,” Rothschild said. “Another starting pitcher might be here [in camp], we just haven’t seen him enough yet. It could come somewhere from within. You always want more pitching, especially as a pitching coach you’d love to have as much as you possibly can get. But the realities of it are it’s not always possible.”