Remember all that spring training chatter — outside the organization, we should add — about permanently switching Luis Severino to the bullpen? It wasn’t all that long ago, a little more than two months.
That crowd imagined Severino as a two-pitch reliever, with a 98-mph fastball and wipeout slider, best equipped to doing damage in short bursts rather than attempting to navigate through a lineup two or three times a night.
Those clamoring for such a scenario — and they were a persistent bunch — obviously see now just how misguided that line of thinking was. Bailing on a supremely talented 23-year-old who spent his first two seasons careening along the learning curve as if it were the Cyclone would have been ridiculously short-sighted. The Yankees wisely subscribed to the long view with Severino.
After another stellar performance by Severino in Saturday night’s 16-3 whacking of the Orioles, we offer an updated compromise. Three weeks from now, stick Severino in the bullpen — for the American League in next month’s All-Star Game at Marlins Park.
“Given the chance, I’d be blessed if that happened,” said Severino, unable to contain a smile at the thought. “But right now I’m focused on helping the team win and staying in the race.”
The evidence is getting to be overwhelming. And as Severino keeps climbing the ranks of the AL’s top pitching categories, it’s going to be a no-brainer. He is undefeated in his last seven starts (3-0) with a 1.90 ERA, and for a while there Saturday night, he teased us with the possibility of maybe firing a no-no against the bewildered Orioles.
He had to settle for allowing two hits in seven innings — his fewest in a start of more than five innings — with the only run coming on Chris Davis’ two-out homer in the seventh.
When Joe Girardi was asked what Severino had working, the manager simply replied, “Everything.”
For those on the Severino All-Star campaign trail, his overall 2.75 ERA moves him past Chris Sale for fifth-best in the AL and his 84 strikeouts are sixth. Severino also is fourth in K/BB ratio (4.66) and sixth in K/9 (10.04), two impressive stats that get a tremendous boost from the fact that his average fastball velocity of 97.2 mph is the highest among all qualifying MLB starters, according to FanGraphs.
Not bad for the third-youngest pitcher to make a start in the American League this season.
With Masahiro Tanaka pushed back a day to Monday night and the team’s decision-makers mulling over whom to use Sunday before later announcing it will be reliever Chad Green, Girardi was hoping for serious length from Severino to keep the bullpen fresh. He again delivered by going seven innings and has covered that distance (or more) in seven of his 12 starts this season.
“Every time out there, I think about pitching seven good innings,” Severino said. “Maybe not seven shutout innings, but seven good ones.”
Saturday night definitely qualified. Severino retired the first 12 Orioles, striking out five, and had the Baltimore batters so frustrated that they were flailing away at bouncing sliders. The other choice was trying to pace Severino’s high-90s heat, and they weren’t so great at that, either. With a zippy rhythm and dominant stuff, he mowed through the Orioles at such a dizzying pace, they didn’t seem as if they’d ever catch their breath.
But the Yankees’ long innings might have cooled off Severino to some degree. He walked the leadoff man in the fifth, going to a full count on Mark Trumbo before just missing inside with a fastball. After whiffing Davis with a 98-mph heater, Severino got burned by the defensive shift when Trey Mancini poked an 0-and-1 fastball at 96 mph through the right side, which was left open by the relocated Starlin Castro.
That finally put someone in scoring position for the Orioles, but with the Yankees holding a 12-0 lead, it was hardly a threat as the night played out as Orioles manager Buck Showalter feared it might.
Before the game, Showalter raved about Severino. The bumpy ride from 2015 sensation to sophomore jinx to the All-Star-worthy ’17 version didn’t surprise him at all.
“It’s a process,” Showalter said. “What you’re seeing now is a byproduct of all that. He’s got a grasp of what he needs to do.”
To be an elite starter, and a shutdown reliever for the AL in Miami next month.