Luis Severino's much-delayed 2019 debut was full of encouraging signs for the Yankees and their ace
Shoulder and lat trouble had kept Severino on the shelf all year
NEW YORK -- In their 152nd game of the season, the New York Yankees finally had their ace on the mound for the first time in 2019. Luis Severino rejoined the team Tuesday night after missing the season's first 151 games with shoulder and lat trouble. That the Yankees went 98-53 without him is a testament to their depth and resiliency.
"The guys here did a good job all year and being back at this time means a lot to me. A lot of guys have been working hard all year and now it comes to me to do my part," Severino told reporters, including NorthJersey.com's Pete Caldera, over the weekend.
Severino threw only 7 2/3 rehab innings (three games) before the minor league postseason ended, so he is effectively still in spring training mode. No matter. Severino held an admittedly thin Angels lineup -- Mike Trout (foot) and Shohei Ohtani (knee) are both done for the season -- scoreless in four innings (NYY 8, LAA 0). The Yankees had Severino on a strict pitch limit in his first start back.
"Sevy did well. Obviously pitched great tonight. Another huge step back for him," manager Aaron Boone said following Tuesday's game. "Really excited for him and for how well he threw the ball. What I loved is just how in control he was with his delivery. The stuff was very good, but it wasn't like he was reaching for it or trying to do it. He really stayed within himself the entire night, and really gave us four outstanding innings."
Said Severino: "Exciting. It was fun going out there and hearing the fans, being with the guys and around all my teammates, and just trying to win games. ... I've been looking forward to this since spring training. It's been a long time. It's been a long road back. I'm here now and I'm healthy. I can help my team."
Beyond the four scoreless frames, Tuesday's outing was very encouraging for the Yankees and Severino. He threw the ball free and easy, first and foremost, and he showed several other promising signs as well.
His velocity was good (and he held it all night)
Severino averaged 97.8 mph with his fastball from 2017-18, the highest among the 125 pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched by nearly a full mile-an-hour (Reds righty Luis Castillo was second at 96.9 mph). Severino did not throw quite that hard Tuesday night, which is understandable given the long layoff and short rehab assignment, but he did average 96.6 mph with his heater. That's plenty good.
Furthermore, Severino held the velocity throughout his start. His final fastball registered at 98.0 mph -- that was his final pitch of the night -- and he didn't dip below the 94-95 mph range all that often.
Velocity is not everything, we know that, but it is pretty important. The more velocity you have, the greater your margin for error, and Severino has been among the game's hardest throwers since his debut in 2015. Tuesday night's velocity was very encouraging following the injuries and layoff, and chances are there's more velocity to come as Severino builds up.
"When they are trying to get you out of the game, that's good motivation to get out there (and empty the tank)," Severino joked about his pitch limit.
He generated weak contact
Severino faced 15 batters Tuesday night, allowed nine balls in play, and his average exit velocity allowed was a mere 83.1 mph. Only two of those nine batted balls had an exit velocity north of 90 mph. That's stellar.
- 2019 MLB average: 88.1 mph
- 2017-18 Severino average: 87.5 mph
It's a super small sample -- again, nine balls in play against a not great offense -- but it sure beats Severino going out and getting whacked around the yard. He kept the ball off the barrel and didn't give the Angels anything to drive. Strikeouts are great. Strikeouts and ability to limit hard contact is even better, and Severino showed it Tuesday.
He got swings and misses
The Angels went into Tuesday night's game with the third lowest strikeout rate (18.8 percent) and the second lowest swing-and-miss rate (8.8 percent) in baseball. If nothing else, their offense puts the ball in play and forces the defense to make plays.
Severino threw 67 pitches Tuesday night and generated nine swings and misses, or a well-above-average 13.4 percent. That includes seven misses on 21 swings against his fastball. Severino's career swing-and-miss rate is 11.8 percent and that's more or less where he was Tuesday.
"I feel very comfortable out there. Pitches were working great. Everything was working great," Severino said. "I feel ready. Fastball command I think was great. I still need to work a little more on my sliders to left-handers."
Boone added: "I feel like every step of the way -- I watched his minor league outings on video, I've watched his sides -- and I felt like today was another step forward. I thought he really commanded his fastball well. Flashed some really good sliders. Changeup was decent. All things that hopefully continue to get tightened up even more. With Sevy there's still room to improve too. I was really encouraged by this step."
Good velocity, weak contact, and empty swings are a great recipe for success and they're what made Severino one of the game's top starters in recent years. It is one game back and these are all small sample size observations, sure, but it's all the Yankees have right now. They're counting on Severino to help them in October, and they saw the makings of a dominant pitcher Tuesday.
"Excited for him. Obviously it's been a long road for him working his way back," Boone said prior to Tuesday's game. "... He's an elite pitcher. I don't want to put too much on him right now. First and foremost, this is another big step for him. A chance to probably get out there a few times now between the end of the season, which will obviously be really valuable for him and for us."
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