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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees need more out of Luis Severino

It hasn’t happened very often this season, but Saturday was one of those rare occasions when the Red Sox had a worse afternoon than the Yankees.

Up at Fenway Park, Chris Sale was put on the disabled list for the second time in a month because of shoulder inflammation — mild, always mild — while Luis Severino tangled with the Blue Jays in the Bronx, barely pushing into the sixth inning.

Seeing Sale go on the DL again has to be a troubling sign for the Red Sox, who already must be trying to protect him for October. They don’t really need him before then, as the AL East title is a foregone conclusion, so putting him in bubble wrap for a few more weeks can only help their title chances in the long run.

As for Severino, the Yankees’ presumptive No. 1, at least he’s still pitching. And from what we’re constantly told, he’s supposed to be healthy, too. Those are two things for the plus column.

The negatives? He no longer resembles the guy who was in the Cy Young Award conversation before the All-Star break, and the Yankees need him to be that guy for their World Series plans to remain intact.

What we witnessed Saturday during the Yankees’ ugly 11-6 victory over the Blue Jays has to be considered progress for Severino, but only because he was so bad leading up to it. Toronto’s lineup is terrible — Curtis Granderson (.236 batting average) was hitting third — and Severino needed 100 pitches to get two batters deep into the sixth, when Grandy stung him for a double and Justin Smoak added an RBI single that had Aaron Boone leaping from the dugout.

In total, Severino was charged with two runs and gave up six hits in those five innings-plus, with two walks and eight strikeouts. The performance was sufficient, thanks to the Yankees’ throttling of Jays starter Sean Reid-Foley, but hardly inspiring.

The Yankees waited more than six weeks for one of those outings, and could use a few more to stay ahead in the top wild-card spot. Boone applied his best spin to Severino’s day, but the hyperbole was hollow. “It was a giant step in the right direction,” he said.

Giant? Not quite. Let’s go with medium. Severino didn’t surrender a homer for the first time in eight starts — he allowed 11 in the previous 36 innings — and the two runs were his fewest since he pitched 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox on July 1. In the interim, he posted a 7.50 ERA and opponents had a .346 batting average and 1.016 OPS.

Hardly ace material, and alarming numbers like those tend to suggest a pitch-tipping problem. Boone wouldn’t confirm or deny that that’s what the issue has been — teams get paranoid about such conversations — but Severino said they’ve scoured the video and haven’t come up with any red flags.

Even if the Yankees can check off that box, it seems as if there’s still a few others to work on, and Severino knows he has to stretch deeper into games than he did on Saturday. “I want to be able to get to the seventh,” he said.

Severino used to with regularity, as he completed the seventh inning in nine of his first 18 starts before this recent downturn began. Since then, he’s done it once in eight tries, holding down the White Sox on Aug. 8.

Part of the solution might be a more diverse attack from Severino, and he went to his changeup more often Saturday. He acknowledged the urgency to get hitters off his fastball-slider combo, and another weapon for them to worry about can only help moving forward.

Either way, the Yankees are exerting themselves to not show any concern about Severino, acting as if he’ll automatically snap back into form at some point.

Even Andy Pettitte, Mr. Reliable himself, tried to ease those fears before he joined his ’98 compadres for Saturday’s on-field celebration. “It’s going to happen,” he said. “He’s a No. 1 and he’s shown what he can do. It’s going to turn around. He’s too good for it not to.”

Easy for him to say. It always did for those guys. But on the day Severino picked up his 16th win — matching the Nationals’ Max Scherzer for tops in MLB — it felt as if he were along for the ride. It felt that way to him, too. “That means that my teammates are helping me,” he said.

Unlike Sale, Severino is still pitching in. But he needs to play more of a starring role than be part of the supporting cast.

New York Sports