Mets starting pitcher Luis Severino throws during a spring training...

Mets starting pitcher Luis Severino throws during a spring training game against the Cardinals on Friday in Jupiter, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca


The most important pitch for Luis Severino as he navigates his way through this Grapefruit League schedule will always be the final one.

If Severino reaches the end of these outings, each a progressive step in his month-long ramp-up to the regular season, without complaints or discomfort, then maybe, just maybe, everyone will start to believe the Mets got the bargain of the winter.

We’re still a long way from that happening. But consider Friday’s first exhibition start against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium a reason to think Severino might reclaim a piece of his previous Bronx glory, or at least have a chance to do so.

Severino completed this opening mission for the Mets, throwing 30 pitches in two scoreless innings in a 3-2 loss. And yes, he crossed the finish line without incident, hitting his top velocity of the day on the last pitch, a 98-mph fastball, that whizzed past Matt Carpenter’s swing for Severino’s lone strikeout.

He threw only six four-seamers, previously maxing out at 96 before reaching back to whiff his former Yankees teammate (albeit a brief stay in the Bronx). When Severino was asked about reaching back for something extra on that pitch, he smiled.

“I had some left in the tank,” he said. “Just waiting for the perfect time to do it.”

At age 30, with his career derailed by a dizzying number of injuries, Severino is smart to use those bullets sparingly at this point in the calendar. Anyone who’s been around the Mets in recent years remembers marveling at Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard throwing 100 mph in Grapefruit League games. Not once, either. A flurry of pitches, and with such ease that they never triggered any alarm sirens.

Well, deGrom currently is rehabbing from a second Tommy John surgery — now for the Rangers — and a significantly degraded Syndergaard has yet to be signed this offseason. Is there a direct correlation between firing triple-digit fastballs early in spring training and later winding up on the injured list? The topic is open to some debate. But the evidence suggests it might not be a great idea.

Against that backdrop, the Mets need to be extra careful with Severino, who has been one of MLB’s top velo guys since his rookie year in 2015. Roughly a year ago this month, he was heading into his free-agent season for the team across town, arriving in Tampa 15 pounds lighter, determined to convince general manager Brian Cashman he was worth making a Yankee for life.

Instead, Severino’s radar-gun fireworks were the precursor to a severe lat-muscle strain that knocked him from the rotation a week before Opening Day. He didn’t return until the end of May, and once he did, he got hammered for a 6.65 ERA in 18 starts before a high-grade oblique strain ended his season on Sept. 8.

In between those injuries, Severino’s average fastball velocity was 96.4 mph, good enough to place in MLB’s top-10th percentile, but opponents raked him at a .301 clip with a .921 OPS. His spotty health, suspicions of pitch-tipping and those dreadful numbers allowed Severino to fall to the Mets on a one-year, $13 million prove-it contract.

Now it’s on Severino to show he can put all those problems behind him. After a winter of working with Jose Rosado — his longtime pitching guru with the Yankees and now the Mets’ new bullpen coach — Severino is confident that they’ve fixed the tipping issues.

“I’m just trying to do the same movement with every pitch,” Severino said. “Sometimes in the past, I was rushing with the fastball, and then with the breaking stuff, I was more calm. So I’m just being calm with all my pitches.”

Severino generated weak contact from the Cardinals and spent most of the start working on a rarely used sinker, which he threw more than any other pitch (11). Last season, he went to a sinker only 2.4% of the time. The previous year, it was 1%. Before then, he hadn’t thrown one since 2015. Now he subscribes to the notion that reinventing himself would be a wise career move.

“The hitters are too good,” Severino said, laughing. “I need to figure out ways to get them out.”

And in the process, stay on the mound for a full season. Severino has made only 40 starts in the past five years, a total of 209 1⁄3 innings, posting a 4.47 ERA as he battled almost every ailment possible (Tommy John surgery wiped out his entire 2020 season). Before that injury-riddled stretch, he strung together a pair of All-Star seasons in which he averaged 31 starts and put up a 3.18 ERA with a 10.5 K/9 ratio.

That feels like a lifetime ago. But with the sinker giving him a new-ish weapon, as well as Severino’s presumably healthier outlook, maybe the Mets’ cobbled-together rotation has found a desperately needed front-line starter.

It’s way too early to tell. They’re both still at the hopeful stage.

“To see him going out there for the last pitch and touch 98 is pretty good to see,” manager Carlos Mendoza said. “The way he used all of his pitches, it was a good outing overall.”

Something to be optimistic about. Until Severino has to do it all over again.

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