On Sunday, I made the trek up to Scranton from North Jersey to watch one of my favorite Yankees pitch. As almost every Yankee fan knows, he was making his first rehab start since recovering from an injured rotator cuff and a severe lat strain. I was thrilled to see a newly healthy Sevy, and to come home and write an article about how he will dominate down the stretch in New York. Unfortunately, that is not the article I am able to write.
Severino took the mound and immediately struck out the first batter he faced. It was impressive, he was locating pretty well and each fastball was harder than the last. But after that AB, the wheels came off a bit. Before his day was over, he had also allowed a weak single and a home run, finishing with a line of 1+IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 2 K. Now believe me when I tell you, it is not the hits, runs allowed, or even the home run that concerns me. If he’d given up ten runs but had his best stuff, I would have been ecstatic. This was sadly not the case.
Fortunately for me, I had the luck of sitting directly in front of the group of scouts that were attending the game to see various players. Through talking to them / unintentionally eavesdropping, I was able to learn a lot about what they were seeing. Some of it backed up my own observations, and some of it I hadn’t even considered. His best pitch was undoubtedly his changeup. He was throwing it a little harder than usual (89mph vs his usual average of 88mph), but it was the only pitch he had, with real life to it. He only threw four of them, and allowing a double off another. The most obvious issue, though, was his velocity. When healthy, Severino’s fastball sits 97 and can touch 100. The majority of fastballs he threw on Sunday were 94-95 (a couple hit 96, including the pitch that was hit into the left field seats). His slider, which is usually hard and biting at 88 mph, was coming in between 80 and 86 mph. One of the scouts asked, perhaps jokingly, if Severino had developed a curveball. On the list of his average pitch velocities below, you’ll see that his fastest slider and fastball were slower than his average in previous years.
This may come off as me trying to knock Sevy for some reason. This is not the case. He is my favorite current Yankee pitcher, bar none. I saw his debut live at Yankee Stadium back in 2015. I know that the extent of this injury is partially the fault of the Yankees’ mishandling it (by their own admission). I want nothing more than to see the Yankees’ ace dominate for them in the playoffs.
There are many reasons to believe that still could happen. First off, this was basically his first spring training start. If an injury were not involved, it would be wise to pay almost no attention to the results of this game. It is also not completely unusual for Severino to come out and just not have his best stuff, and not unreasonable to think this could happen in the first real action Severino has seen in almost a year. Unsurprisingly, the most salient point came from the professionals behind me. They mentioned that the issue could be with Severino trusting his shoulder enough to throw his hardest. The question is whether he is simply being cautious, or if he is feeling some pain. We all desperately hope its the former.
I imagine that the Yankees will shut him down quickly if he is not fully healthy. If he is, the biggest factor becomes time. If they are eliminated, it will be very difficult for the Yankees to find opportunities to get him innings below the big league level. If the Yankees are not able to get him stretched out properly, they would be undoubtedly risking further injury and putting his 2020 season in jeopardy. If there is even a slight risk of this, I would much rather shut him down and dance with who brought them to the playoffs this season.
In the end, I badly want Severino to be healthy. When he’s on, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, and would completely change the team if he were able to come back this year. But the most important thing is to keep him healthy in the long term. All of this considered, the outlook for 2019 is uncertain.