Luis Severino is hurting again. Is that a surprise?
The Yankees persuaded Luis Severino not to participate in the World Baseball Classic this year to help him stay intact through spring training.
The disappointed Severino stayed in Tampa.
He got hurt anyway.
The Yankees announced Saturday that Severino has been scratched from Sunday’s final Grapefruit League start and most likely will begin the season on the injured list with a right lat muscle strain.
Manager Aaron Boone did not provide a timeline for Severino’s recovery other than to say he’ll be shut down for the next five to seven days, the standard response for these sort of situations. Boone also emphasized that this is a “low- grade” strain and expressed optimism that it will not result in a significant absence.
Severino’s history suggests otherwise. If the IL were a hotel chain, he’d be a platinum member by now, based on his far-too-frequent stays during the past four-plus years. Not to mention that he had a lat injury last season that also was described as a low-grade strain.
Severino was placed on the IL on July 14.
His next start was Sept. 21.
Maybe that was because of an abundance of caution on the Yankees’ part, considering that Severino returned from Tommy John surgery the previous season and had thrown only six innings. Severino bristled at the team’s decision to move him to the 60-day IL, believing it was unnecessary and that he’d be ready to pitch long before then.
It’s hard to argue with the Yankees’ course of action at the time. But why this keeps happening to Severino — who turned 29 in February — must be a mystery; otherwise they’d have a better handle on his troublesome maintenance by now.
Until Saturday, Severino appeared to be right on schedule as the team’s No. 3 starter. He may have had a 9.00 ERA, but the Yankees were happy that he still was functional in late March. In his most recent start, he struck out nine in four innings, but it was downhill from there.
Boone explained that Severino felt some tightness during his post-start arm-care regimen that stuck around for an uncomfortably long period. That necessitated a closer look, which revealed the strain.
“He’s worked his tail off to put himself in a good spot here,” Boone said Saturday. “To have it happen a week before the season, I know it’s got to be frustrating for him. But now let’s move on, get it right, get better and get back.”
If only things were that simple. Severino’s reliability has been in question almost from the minute he signed his four-year, $40 million extension in February 2019, with a total of 22 starts (120 innings) in the four years since then.
On those rare occasions when Severino actually does pitch, he’s been an ace, with a 2.85 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 ratio in that same stretch. But the Yankees can’t get by on projections at the moment.
Severino is the third starter to go down in spring training — we’re not even counting Nestor Cortes’ balky hamstring — in a series of unlucky bounces that have severely dented what was supposed to be a major strength of their 2023 roster.
They lost Frankie Montas to shoulder surgery the first week of camp, with a best-case scenario of a second-half return. Carlos Rodon, fresh off signing his six-year, $162 million deal, suffered a forearm strain in his first Grapefruit League start and won’t rejoin the rotation until some point in May, at the earliest.
Every rotation has risk. Pitching is a fragile commodity. But the Yankees’ gamble on a few of these oft-injured starters should be making them a little nervous after seeing them have issues so early.
The post-op Montas admitted in spring training that he arrived from Oakland last August with a bad shoulder. Rodon’s thick medical binder includes Tommy John surgery in 2019, and he mentioned that this forearm discomfort was something he dealt with last year, too. Is it good that Rodon was able to shake it off then? Or bad that it’s a recurring problem? No one seems to be sure.
And then there’s Severino, the most perplexing of that trio. It seemed like a no-brainer to bring him back on the $15 million option for this season, and if you go only by his pitching numbers, he’s worth twice that amount.
But that’s the tease with Severino. When healthy, he’s a Cy Young Award candidate. In the two seasons leading up to his 2019 contract extension, he went 33-14 in 63 starts (384 2/3 IP) with a 3.18 ERA. But far too often, he hasn’t been healthy.
The Yankees were hoping to see the good Severino again, and this being his walk year, it figured to be now or never. He came to camp 15 pounds lighter and was determined to put his injury-riddled past behind him, in a renewed effort to convince general manager Brian Cashman to make him a Yankee for life.
But that campaign took a hit with Saturday’s setback, and now the Yankees find themselves in an all-too-familiar spot with Severino — wondering when he might pitch again.
Losing another pillar of the rotation is always traumatic, but springing another leak when you’re already patching holes is suboptimal so close to Opening Day.
“It’s tough,” Aaron Judge said, “But that’s what this team is built for. Guys step up and fill those holes.”
And truthfully, the Yankees shouldn’t be all that surprised. Especially when it comes to Severino.