The New York Yankees finally welcomed their ace back to the mound Tuesday, and the event lived up to its billing as a postseason preview.
After being sidelined for the club's first 151 games by shoulder and lat injuries, Luis Severino took the bump at Yankee Stadium and paced an 8-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels with four shutout innings. He looked a lot like, well, Luis Severino.
The right-hander's fastball, which sat at an MLB-best 97.6 mph in 2018, cruised at an average of 96.6 mph and got as high as 98.8 mph. He also snapped off some nasty sliders, including one that robbed Andrelton Simmons of his equilibrium in the fourth inning.
Courtesy of Rob Friedman:
Severino's roughest frame was the first, which he began with a 12-pitch walk of Brian Goodwin and which came with zero swinging strikes on 19 pitches.
After that, however, came nine whiffs on his next 48 pitches. It's also noteworthy that Angels hitters mustered only one more walk and that they struggled to square Severino up when they did make contact. Only one of the nine batted balls off him registered at over 100 mph.
If nits must be picked, one is that Severino couldn't get consistent action on his secondary pitches. There's also the reality that his final tally of 67 pitches might be as good as it gets for him after so many months away.
However, that kind of effort is also all the Yankees—who began Tuesday tied with the Houston Astros atop MLB with a 98-53 record—need out of Severino going forward.
There might have been a point this season when the Yankees hoped Severino would have enough time to fully reclaim the form of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Each produced an All-Star appearance as he totaled a 3.18 ERA and 450 strikeouts over 384.2 innings.
But if that ship hadn't already sailed by the time Severino took the mound in a rehab appearance for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders on Sept. 1, it has now.
Though the Yankees are within reach of home-field advantage throughout the postseason, there's one question that looms even larger now that four-time All-Star reliever Dellin Betances is out for the season with a partially torn Achilles tendon: Do they have enough pitching for October?
More specifically, how might they overcome the trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke in a potential showdown with the Astros?
According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, manager Aaron Boone's plan is to "piggyback" starters and deploy relievers so that no single pitcher is overexposed. Even Severino, in Verducci's words, is "not going to be stretched out enough to be treated as a traditional starter."
Assuming the Yankees actually go through with this, they'll effectively be walling their pitchers off from the times-through-the-order penalty. It is indeed a real thing for starting pitchers:
- 1st PA: .729 OPS
- 2nd PA: .778 OPS
- 3rd PA: .801 OPS
Over the course of the 162-game season, the Yankees didn't have much choice but to risk occasionally being hurt by said penalty. But they do have a choice amid the frequent off days of the postseason. To this end, their starters' MLB-worst .920 OPS during the third time through the order suggests Boone's call is the right one.
For his part, Severino shouldn't have too much trouble adapting to the Yankees' plan. His own splits are typical in that he's posted his lowest OPS (.659) and highest strikeouts-per-nine rate (10.4) in his first time through an order.
In light of all this, all Severino needed to prove in his 2019 debut was that he's healthy and that he can still flat-out bring it with the best of 'em. From any reasonable perspective, he checked both boxes.
Assuming the Yankees' notion that their pitching staff can be greater than the sum of its parts pans out, all they'll need to make their way through October is more home runs from their offense.
On that front, Yankees sluggers have already passed the single-season homer record they set in 2018. Only the Minnesota Twins stand between them and a new record, and the Yankees have easily out-homered them and everyone else since the calendar turned to August.
Altogether, it's only becoming harder to doubt that these Yankees are capable of capturing the organization's 28th World Series championship.