Luis Severino knows that for every peak, there’s a valley.
And if 2018 is his peak (or the beginning of it), 2016 was his valley. It was almost rock bottom.
Two years later, though, that’s a distant memory. Severino, who will start against David Price and the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, no longer is the wild card he was in 2016. He’s one of the best in baseball.
“I think you have to fall first to go up,” Severino said Saturday. “I think that was a wake-up call for me. I came here to be a major league starter. That year was the year they told me, ‘Hey, are you going to be a starter or are you going to be in the bullpen?’ I don’t like being in the bullpen. It’s great being in the big leagues, but I don’t like being in the bullpen.”
He succeeded in relief in 2016, allowing one earned run in 23 1⁄3 innings in 11 appearances. Those results, however, did little to undo his often-frustrating results as a starter. In 11 starts, he posted an 0-8 record and an 8.50 ERA in 47 2⁄3 innings. A sizzling fastball and wipeout slider had powered his success in 2015 — his first taste of the majors — but that above-average stuff failed him in 2016.
“My mind was weak, I would say, at that time,” Severino said. “I didn’t trust my stuff. I worked a lot on my changeup, and it got better, my fastball command, and even my slider. Now I’m going after people.”
Then something clicked in spring training last year. Severino had the poise and the swagger back. Finally, he had the results. He was a guy who had climbed the mountain to reach its peak. And now he might be even better.
Severino is 12-2 with a 2.10 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 111 2⁄3 innings. In his last 14 starts, he is 10-1 (the Yankees are 13-1) with a 1.83 ERA. When he faces Boston on Sunday, it’ll be in prime time on ESPN as the Yankees’ ace — a title he unquestionably owns and deserves.
Severino is among the majors’ most consistently dominant pitchers, allowing one earned run or fewer in nine of his 17 starts. Dating to last year, he has yielded one earned run or fewer in 26 of his last 48 regular-season starts.
CC Sabathia said he thought Severino’s ascent was inevitable, given the arsenal of pitches at his disposal.
“He had the stuff from the start to be what he is, and it’s just been fun to watch him turn into it,” Sabathia said.
Severino throws the hardest average fastball among qualified starting pitchers at 97.8 mph, according to FanGraphs, and he has touched triple-digits late in games with consistency.
“That’s a God-given talent,” Sabathia said. “That’s something you can’t teach anybody to do. You can’t have guys hold back and try to throw hard later. It’s just something that he was born being able to do.”
Seemingly at the top of his game, Severino is “our ace,” Sabathia said. No valley in sight.