TAMPA, Fla. — An executive from an opposing team recently pondered the Yankees’ rotation. “Line them up however you want, start whoever you want on Opening Day,” he said. “Severino’s the ace.”
That would be Luis Severino, who is all of 22 and has done very little this spring to tamp down the hype that followed his rookie year. Called up in August to help the Yankees in a pennant race, the righthander, with a high-90’s fastball and sharp breaking pitches, distinguished himself over 11 games, going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA.
Perhaps to keep him hungry, Joe Girardi, at the start of spring training, said Severino wasn’t “guaranteed” a rotation spot.
Severino has gone out and earned one, even with his relatively subpar performance Wednesday night, when he allowed two runs and five hits in 4 1⁄3 innings of a 6-3 victory over the Mets at Steinbrenner Field. He walked one and struck out five.
“He’s pitched very well,” Girardi said before the game. “He’s probably pitched as well as anyone that we have. Everything he’s done this spring, I’ve liked it.”
There has been plenty to like, Tuesday included. Severino entered the game with a 3.75 ERA in four appearances — two starts — with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 12 innings. The numbers were even more impressive considering all five of the runs he had allowed came in the second inning of his first outing, March 2 against the Tigers.
“After that he recovered from it really well, which is important because it’s not always going to be smooth,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tuesday. “You like to see what a pitcher does after games like that.”
Severino, after a 1-2-3 first against the Mets, pitched out of trouble the next three innings, stranding five runners. But he could not get out of the fifth, which Johnny Monell led off with a single before Curtis Granderson doubled with one out. Aroldis Chapman relieved, and Neil Walker’s groundout to second brought in one run, making it 5-1, and Yoenis Cespedes’ double to right made it 5-2.
“I felt good the first four innings but fell behind in the fifth,” Severino said. “That’s what happens when you fall behind in the count.”
Rothschild characterized Severino as “fearless. He’ll throw any pitch in any count. He’s stayed on the attack the whole time. He came down here early and he was throwing the ball really well.”
Opposing talent evaluators often use the word “poise” to describe Severino, something Girardi has mentioned since the pitcher arrived in the big leagues.
“You forget how young he is when he’s out there,” he said. “I think that he’s pretty wise and mature. He has a plan and knows what he wants to do. He just goes out and competes. When you have stuff like he has and you compete as hard as he does, you’re usually going to have success.”
As for talk about who is the Yankees’ ace, for now that is Masahiro Tanaka, all but certain to be the Opening Day starter as long as he stays healthy. Many expect Severino to be knocking on that door soon enough, but while aware of the excitement surrounding him, he isn’t contributing to it. At least, not beyond his work on the mound.
“I’m really not so much into that,” Severino said. “I just want to go out there and pitch and have a good season.”