World_news How Luis Severino’s return to Yankees can be game-changing – New York Post


Luis Severino played catch in shallow right field with catching instructor Jason Brown as pitching coach Larry Rothschild locked in on every throw.

The Yankee Stadium stands were empty and first pitch was still three hours away, but since that first pitch would be thrown to a Baltimore hitter, this was the main event Wednesday. Such is the awfulness of the Orioles and the magnitude of Severino.

Credit the Yankees for generating the majors’ best record without a pitch yet from their ace. It speaks to depth of talent and character. On Wednesday, the Yankees beat the Orioles 6-5 thanks in part to a key two-run left-on-left single by Mike Ford off Richard Bleier and superb defense from second baseman Thairo Estrada, promoted before the game.

Ford and Estrada’s 2019 relevance was supposed to be taking buses for spring training road games so the veterans could lounge back in Tampa. But in this Yankees season, the heroes have evolved and revolved up and down the roster. It has been impressive.

But the key now about spring training is that it is six weeks. And there are 7 ¹/₂ weeks left in the regular season. In other words, enough time to prep Severino not to be an opener or reliever, but a starter.

“Definitely,” Severino said when asked if he could be up to 90 pitches or more by the Division Series.

Naturally, GM Brian Cashman and Rothschild tamped down such long-range gazes when there are so many steps to go from here to there. As Cashman said, “There is a pathway, but no pathway is guaranteed.”

Especially in this Yankees season which has been replete with victories and injuries and often setbacks, including at times to Severino, whose rotator cuff strain morphed into a lat injury.

The Yankees have figured out how to win without him and Dellin Betances, creating an aura that they will find a way. Perhaps that will permeate October. But the road sure gets easier if Severino is performing at his peak, especially if the Astros or Indians eventually get in the way with their strong rotations — or the Dodgers in the World Series.

Luis SeverinoPaul J. Bereswill

“It’s huge,” Rothschild said about getting Severino back. “He has to be right and at the top of his game and all of those things. There is no reason to think he won’t be, but again that is down the road and I am not going there.”

So I will. Absence can evoke amnesia, but Severino spent much of the past two seasons as one of the majors’ best starters. The Yankees have no one else like him. Masahiro Tanaka has postseason pedigree and Domingo German and James Paxton high-end stuff. Severino, though, is an ace in a sport that has maybe a dozen of those.

It is hard to see the Yankees having faith in J.A. Happ. He allowed two runs in five innings Wednesday, but was constantly battling base runners and a rising pitch count. His ERA is 5.40. Only Terry Mulholland (6.49 in 1994) is worse for a Yankee who qualified for an ERA title. He survived, in part Wednesday, because, well, Baltimore. The Orioles offered resistance, but not a win, falling to 2-17 against the Yankees with the season series now complete.

And it was not Happ’s pitches to Gary Sanchez that mattered most. It was Severino to Brown, who for the final 15 put on a mask, got into a squat and handled plenty of sliders. Severino has a mound session Friday, a simulated game Sunday and — if all goes well — a trip to Tampa to ramp up with another simulated game followed by a minor league start. It is imperfect because the minor league season will expire and Severino will have to build up at some point in September in the majors.

But I am reminded that the Yankees thrived in 1996 for four months without ace David Cone, who returned Labor Day magically with seven no-hit innings. Cone won the vital World Series game 3 in Atlanta after the Braves had taken a two-games-to-none lead in The Bronx.

The Yankees do not need Labor Day wizardry from Severino. Their big AL East cushion allows a steady progression. Rosters will expand in September to better protect Severino, perhaps with Betances and even Jordan Montgomery, who Cashman noted actually is ahead of Severino as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

The goal is to stretch Severino to 90 pitches by October, prepare a talent who can navigate a strong lineup more than two times due to overwhelming stuff. The Canyon of Heroes comes into better view if that occurs.

“This was a big step for me,” Severino said about the main event before the game. “Because I keep taking steps. I feel happy, healthy, great.”

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