The Yankees announced this week that pitcher Luis Severino doesn’t have any structural damage on his right shoulder, which is obviously a best-case scenario after he was shut down after being scratched from his rehab start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while “not feeling right.” The talented 27-year-old hurler, who is trying to work his way back from Tommy John surgery and a groin strain in addition to his shoulder issue, sought a second opinion on his MRI, but was ultimately cleared of any serious issues.
“Let’s get through this week and see when [Severino is] able to start throwing again,” manager Aaron Boone told the press this week. In fact, the pitcher will rest for the remainder of the week, and after that, the team will see where he is at and decide on the next step.
Severino had been working his way back as a starter. It made sense: he is, after all, a top rotation option when healthy, and the team probably wanted him to be the second-best pitcher in a potential playoffs staff. He clearly has the talent to fulfill that role. After the groin and shoulder setbacks, however, the Yankees would be wise to reevaluate their priorities for the stretch run and a hypothetical playoffs berth. Resuming his road back as a starter could take longer than if he were to return as a reliever, so why not examine that last route?
The Yankees currently have several options to start games in Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes Jr., Luis Gil, and Andrew Heaney. Domingo Germán, Corey Kluber, and Clarke Schmidt could become alternatives down the road, too. Granted, a healthy and in-form Severino is better than all of them except for Cole. However, his last full workload as a starter came in 2018, when he pitched 191.1 frames. Injuries derailed his 2019 season and limited him to 12 innings, and his 2020 was over before it started due to his elbow ligament damage.
At this point, in late August, it would be unfair for the Yankees to ask Severino to rest until Monday, go through bullpens, live batting practice, rehab starts, and stretching out to five or six innings all before the end of next month. There is just not enough time anymore. Bringing Severino back as a reliever would spare the Yankees from the stretching out part and could potentially result in the pitcher helping the team sooner. In fact, if the Bombers are bold enough, they could use him as a multi-inning weapon for the stretch run and the playoffs, like they used to deploy Chad Green in the past.
If Severino proves he is fully healthy and has no further setbacks, dreaming about him pumping 98-99 mph gas by hitters and using that filthy slider of his to finish them is actually very enticing. There would be no need to force a starter role with little time to build his arm for it.
If Sevy’s command returns, he could actually thrive in the role. He could focus on throwing two pitches, with some changeups sprinkled in, and he could help the Yankees get between four and six outs against tough batters. In 2016, he was used in the bullpen after crashing and burning earlier in that season as a starter — it served as a major course correction and gave the Yankees a weapon in the ‘pen for later that summer. He has evolved and matured, and while we shouldn’t assume that he can return and throw to a 0.39 ERA like he did then, the bullpen provides a path of least resistance to getting Severino some action in 2021.
If the Yankees make a quick decision and deploy Severino as a reliever for the remainder of the season, he could be ready around mid-September and would have a couple of weeks to test his skills in a multi-inning bullpen role. The theory sounds amazing. Would it work in actual games? He is a career 3.46-ERA, 1.15-WHIP hurler with strikeout power and good control. There is no reason to think it wouldn’t, as long as he is healthy.