DUNEDIN, Fla. — Luis Severino came out firing against the Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, his first three pitches clocking in at 98, 98 and 99 mph.
But Joe Girardi wasn’t terribly interested in his velocity. Nor, for that matter, was Severino.
“Command of his fastball and his changeup,” Girardi said before the game of what he hoped to see. “Want to see him throw some effective changeups. And this is a team that knows him, so he needs to command the baseball against this club.”
The results, with the loud exception of a long two-run homer by Jose Bautista — who has victimized many a pitcher over the years — were mostly positive in the Yankees’ 3-2 loss in front of 5,143 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
Severino, 23, allowed four hits and a walk in 2 1⁄3 innings, striking out four.
“We’d take back one or two pitches; it’s still a good day for him,” catcher Austin Romine said. “We accomplished what we wanted to. We got the changeup going and I think he’s pretty confident [with it] moving forward.”
It is a pitch Severino has said he gave up on early last season, which, along with poor fastball command, led to a frustrating year. He lost his spot in the rotation in May, and only some terrific bullpen work late in the season, as strictly a fastball-slider pitcher, salvaged the year to some degree.
The Yankees still very much view Severino as a starter and want to see him put a stranglehold on one of the two open rotation spots in a five-man competition. But developing his changeup, and his confidence in it, is a must. That’s the reason for Friday’s positive reviews as he faced a Toronto lineup that featured regulars Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, Bautista and Kendrys Morales.
“Threw a bunch of changeups, fastball was good today,” Girardi said. “I thought it was progress.”
Severino estimated that of his 47 pitches, 10 were changeups.
“I think the changeup was pretty good,” he said. “The homer was a pitch [fastball] inside I left a little in the middle, and you saw what happened. First outing, [the changeup] was good. Today was good.”
Girardi said he has told Severino to throw the changeup in spring training and not to worry about the results.
“We have to get him comfortable with that, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “If he gives up a hit on it . . . sometimes you have to work on it.”
Romine was impressed with how Severino shrugged off the home run, which the catcher said “is on me” for calling for a fastball inside that wound up over the plate. Severino recovered to strike out Morales swinging at a 97-mph fastball and fanned Melvin Upton on a slider.
“Gives up the home run, doesn’t care, goes back in there and throws a good changeup [to Morales],” Romine said. “That’s something he’s learning how to let it go and get back on the mound.”
Romine said the confidence displayed by Severino thus far reminds him of what he saw in the minors from the pitcher, whom he caught many times there.
“He has it now, you can see it in his eyes,” Romine said. “This kid has confidence right now. You can see it when you look at him. You can see it on the mound. His presence, his energy. Confidence is going to be a big thing with him, and the more reps he can get and the more innings he can get, the more confidence he’s going to get.”