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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Luis Severino’s four-game slide not the stuff of a No. 1 starter

Yankees catcher Austin Romine talks with Luis Severino

Yankees catcher Austin Romine talks with Luis Severino during the third inning on Saturday, July 28, 2018, at the Stadium. Severino allowed six runs in 4 1⁄3 innings and has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 19 1⁄3 innings. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There’s no sugarcoating this. So we’ll just rip the Band-Aid off.

Luis Severino, in his past four starts, has allowed 19 runs in 19 1⁄3 innings. That’s an 8.84 ERA, and to any rational observer, it’s a flashing warning light for the Yankees’ ace.

One flop? That can be written off as an outlier. Two or three? Maybe a few hiccups. But after Severino failed to make it out of the fifth inning Saturday, getting raked by the Royals for six runs in the Yankees’ eventual 10-5 loss in Game 1 of the doubleheader, that has to be considered an unsettling trend.

The night almost got worse from there, when CC Sabathia crashed to the turf in Game 2, tearing up a chunk of grass with his right knee (the one in the brace) as he chased a high chopper in the fifth inning. Despite the scare, Sabathia stayed in for three more batters, and said he was fine after the Yankees held on for a 5-4 victory.

“That’s definitely a hold-your-breath moment,” Aaron Boone said.

Still, in 18 innings of baseball, Severino and Sabathia combined for a total of nine innings, together giving up 14 hits and eight runs. Not a great showing by the rotation, and particularly troubling for Severino. Rallying late for the Game 2 win helped calm the Yankees’ overall anxiety to some degree, but they should be losing some sleep over their struggling ace.

Severino hasn’t seen the sixth inning in nearly a month. He’s also served up seven home runs during this disturbing stretch — one more than he had surrendered in his previous 18 starts (a span of 118 1⁄3 innings). Lucas Duda, a former Met, got him Saturday with a high-arcing moonshot that landed a few rows deep in the rightfield seats.

Duda was the only Royal who took Severino out of the yard, but plenty pummeled him with more ferocity. Salvador Perez nearly decapitated Severino with a bullet line drive that scored two runs in the fifth. Of the eight hits, four went for extra bases. The Royals, who entered the game with the AL’s worst slugging percentage (.370) and traded Mike Moustakas the previous night, still teed off on Severino like they knew what was coming.

No matter how the Yankees tried to spin it, that’s tough to explain away. Austin Romine talked about the Royals being “comfortable” at the plate because of Severino’s poor fastball command, a diagnosis shared by Boone and Severino himself. His velocity was fine, the usual 97-98, but it didn’t matter how hard Severino was throwing if his location was terrible.

The Yankees’ rotation depends on Severino being an elite No. 1 starter, the guy who was 13-2 with a 1.98 ERA before this slide began. He’s supposed to be the rock — everyone else is flawed in some way or another — and there’s no Justin Verlander available on the market this year to pair with him. Brian Cashman’s dream of acquiring either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard is going to remain just that — a fantasy — and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to pry Chris Archer from the Rays, who would prefer to send him anywhere but the Bronx.

The best Cashman could do so far is trade for J.A. Happ as a supplemental rotation piece, sort of a No. 3 1⁄2 starter, and keep his fingers crossed with the rest. Despite the suggestion this is all fastball-related, Severino mentioned that it was the slider that failed him last time out against the Rays, so something is affecting his pitches across the board. That’s a reason for concern.

“I don’t know what the issue is,” Severino said. “But I will make sure I will look at what’s going on. I’ve been through this in the past, so I just need to work on the stuff that’s not working and try to be myself again.”

In lieu of a serious rotation upgrade, Cashman acquired Zach Britton last week to bolster the bullpen, which can cover for a starting corps that leaves them short on innings. But Severino, who’s only 24, is supposed to get them deep into games, not bail halfway through.

“He’s been lights out for us all year, so it’s easy to forget that he’s human,” Romine said. “It’s weird, but he’s a competitor, so I’m sure we’ll fix this and clean this up quick.”

They better. Next up for Severino is the Red Sox, at Fenway Park. Though he’s pitched well against Boston in his last two starts — two earned runs in 12 2⁄3 innings, 17 Ks — both were in the Bronx. They pummeled him at Fenway back in April, and Severino is clearly struggling right now.

“I’m not too worried about Sevy,” Robertson said.

Maybe the Yankees aren’t at that point yet, but with Severino’s next start coming Thursday, they should be able to see it from here.

New York Sports