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Yankees’ Luis Severino looking to take next step in 2018

Yankees pitcher Luis Severino on Photo Day 2018

Yankees pitcher Luis Severino on Photo Day 2018 during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TORONTO — It was a breakthrough 2017 for Luis Severino and the righthander this season is looking to take the proverbial next step.

Which for the 24-year-old essentially would be winning the Cy Young Award.

Severino, set to make his first Opening Day start Thursday afternoon against J.A. Happ and the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA last season, his first full year in the big leagues. He ranked third in the AL in ERA and WHIP (1.040) and fourth in strikeouts (230). The performance allowed Severino to finish third in American League Cy Young voting behind Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and Boston’s Chris Sale.

Speaking Wednesday before the Yankees worked out at Rogers Centre, Severino said trying to duplicate, or even surpass, last year’s numbers aren’t on his mind.

“I’ll go and have fun,” he said. “If I think I have to have the numbers I had last year I’m not going to do a good job. I’ll go one game at a time and at the end of the season we’ll see what the numbers are.”

Severino’s 2017 made him the obvious choice to start the season opener, but he never took that for granted. Before Aaron Boone named him, Severino consistently mentioned CC Sabathia, who started six straight Yankees season openers from 2009-14, and Masahiro Tanaka, who started three straight from 2015-17 as pitchers he would pick for the assignment.

There was never a chance of that and Boone made it official March 17.

“We just feel,” Boone said then, “it’s Sevy’s time.”

On Wednesday Boone said his experience with Severino this spring was similar to his experience with Aaron Judge; neither struck him as content with their 2017 accomplishments.

“You can tell this guy’s really hungry and he has an expectation that he can be a great pitcher in this game,” Boone said. “That came across to me in getting to know him a little bit and watching him prepare. Last year was a great year for him, but he’s not satisfied with that.”

Perhaps because, even at 24, Severino already has experienced some severe ups and downs in the game. After a terrific debut in August 2015, he struggled in 2016, losing the rotation spot he earned that spring by mid-May. He was banished to the minors and while he eventually made it back to the rotation, Severino finished out that season in the bullpen. Severino excelled in that role and there was some thought — though not within the Yankees — he might be better suited as a reliever.

Severino entered 2017 without a guaranteed spot in the rotation and didn’t lock up a starting job until the latter part of the Grapefruit League season.

Wednesday he acknowledged how far he’d come in a year’s time.

“I smiled right away, I was happy,” Severino said Wednesday of his reaction when Boone told him he’d be the Opening Day starter. “Last year [in the spring] I was fighting for a spot, now they asked me to start the first game. I was very happy to have that honor.”

New York Sports