Luis Severino Picks Perfect Time to Look Like Yankees' Future Ace Again

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 14, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees celebrates after the last out in the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 13, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

After learning earlier that top pitching prospect James Kaprielian needs Tommy John surgery, the New York Yankees badly needed a dose of good news Thursday night.

Luis Severino to the rescue.

In fact, Severino's goal in the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays seemed to be to remind everyone that he's the one who's supposed to be viewed as the club's ace of the future. The 23-year-old fired seven innings of two-run ball, allowing five hits and one walk while punching out 11.

The last Yankees starter to have an outing like that at such a young age? According to ESPN Stats & Info, try 54 years ago:

There's no ignoring the "Yeah, buts" in this instance.

Those include the fact that this isn't the first time Severino has dominated as a starter in the majors. He did plenty of that as a rookie in 2015, putting up a 2.89 ERA that validated his former status as an elite prospect. Alas, he then struggled and fell off the radar in 2016.

And besides, this is one of only two starts the right-hander has made this year. The other wasn't so great, as he surrendered four runs in five innings in a loss against the Baltimore Orioles last Friday.

Still, let's give Severino some credit.

This wasn't just another dominant start for him. It was his most dominant start to date. His 11 strikeouts beat his previous career high by two. With a game score of 69, he easily cleared his previous career high of 66.

Certainly, it helped that Severino maintained an average fastball of 96.8 miles per hour, per Statcast data from Baseball Savant. But pitching at high velocity is nothing new for him, and one thing he learned while struggling with a 5.83 ERA last season is that heat alone isn't good enough in The Show.

"Last year, I wasn't trying to be a pitcher. I was trying to throw hard," Severino said ahead of his 2017 debut, according to Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13:  Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees sends the ball back to first to try and pick off Kevin Kiermaier #39 of the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning on April 13, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Elsa/Getty Images

What's the difference between "throwing" and "pitching?" That's a complicated subject, but it says right there on the first page of Pitching 101 that changing speeds is part of it.

Severino went to his changeup early and often to get the job done Thursday. And even at an average of 89 mph, it did the job of disrupting the timing of Rays hitters. Of the 28 changeups he threw, only three were put in play.

One changeup-heavy start isn't necessarily a trend, but this could prove to be a big step in the right direction for Severino.

For whatever reason, he's been hesitant to use his changeup in the majors, throwing it only 11.5 percent of the time. But it's not shocking to see him starting to turn that around, as getting back to his changeup was a point of emphasis in spring training.

"We have to get him comfortable with that, that's the bottom line," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at one point, according to Erik Boland of Newsday.

If Severino is indeed comfortable with his changeup again, that's potentially a big hurdle for opposing offenses. The pitch isn't some experiment he's had trouble getting results from. It was once viewed as an elite offering, even getting a 70 grade from Baseball America in 2015.

At the time, Severino's slider was supposed to be the weak link in his arsenal. That's changed over time, as it's become a sharp breaking ball with good diving action.

The 16 sliders he threw Thursday night got three swinging strikes and got put in play only twice. Even on a night when he had a blistering fastball and a good changeup, the slider's the pitch that caught the attention of Pedro Martinez:

There are times when the results and the process don't always line up. This isn't one of those times. Severino was genuinely nasty on Thursday.

"Tonight he showed us what he's capable of doing," Girardi said afterward, according to Boland.

There are still steps for Severino to take toward becoming an ace. While his electric arsenal may be rounding into form, he could stand to be more consistent hitting his spots. You could see him miss his share against the Rays. Better hitting teams can (and will) punish him for that.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Nonetheless, he doesn't look like the same guy who went from being a budding ace to persona non grata seemingly overnight last season. And where past Yankees teams might have had trouble finding windows to give him some on-the-job training, that shouldn't be an issue this year. With an overdue youth movement in full swing, Severino's grasp on a starting rotation spot appears to be firm.

So whereas Kaprielian could only be imagined as the Yankees' ace of the future, Severino is going to keep getting chances to prove he's the guy for the job. 

If his latest outing is any indication, he knows what he needs to do.

           

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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