For just the second time since the start of July, Luis Severino turned in a quality start on Friday night, when he held the Tigers to three runs over six frames in a 7-5 Yankee victory. For Severino, it still wasn’t the dominant showing that is expected of him (especially against a lowly offense like the Tigers), but it was another baby step in the right direction.
The past three starts for Severino have been on par with this most recent outing: better, but not that much better. For a Yankees team that is trying to make one last desperate dash for the division crown, they need their ace in top form to provide them with a win every five days. They’re still not there yet. However, they can begin to breathe a little easier in the knowledge that while it’s taking longer than they might like, Severino is working his way back.
The first promising showing from his most recent start was the zero walks Severino issued. He still allowed an average of a hit per inning, but the command was better, which also showed in his 10 strikeouts, his highest total since June 4th. Severino has now racked up 26 strikeouts in his last 16 2/3 innings, after logging just 16 in the same amount of time over the three starts prior. Severino has always used his blazing fastball and vicious slider to miss bats, and that much-needed dominance could be making its return.
Everyone that watches Severino lately has been looking at the radar gun to make sure that blazing fastball is still blazing. Spectators have desperately been combing through the details to try to find some tangible evidence of his struggles, perhaps in the form of a dip in velocity to suggest fatigue for a pitcher that logged almost 200 innings last season. The velocity on his fastball has never dipped to alarming levels during this cold stretch, but over the past three starts, the velocity has gotten better, clocking in at 97.9, 98.2 and 97.8. All three of those averages are his highest since July 23rd. If there is any fatigue, Severino hasn’t shown it in his fastball lately.
Another concern was the bite on Severino’s slider, which has often been a weapon to baffle opposing hitters and get that swing and miss in important situations. According to Fangraphs, the vertical movement on his slider has increased over each of his past three starts, and to no surprise, so have the strikeout totals.
The increase in efficiency with the fastball and slider has possibly been a culmination of slow and steady improvements over the past month, which show in the stats. Severino’s ERA is down almost a full two runs from his July total to August, and his August stats across the board are an improvement from that of July’s. His strikeout percentage is up eight percent from July to August, his K/BB ratio is the best its been since June, and his FIP has dropped from 5.65 to 3.69. All good things.
Again, this is still not vintage Severino, but it is a much better Severino. As the calendar turns to the final month of the regular season, Severino will have to find that final push or final tweak to jolt him back to the pitcher he was in 2017, and the first three months of the regular season. With all the injuries surrounding the Yanks this season, it sure would be comforting to have one less uncertainty.