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How the Yankees can get creative with Luis Severino in 2022

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The last time Severino had a full starter workload was in 2018. The Yankees must treat his arm with care.

Wild Card Round - New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

We have said countless times in this space that the Yankees need to bring in some pitching reinforcement. Their current depth situation is far from ideal, especially considering the questions surrounding several pieces of the rotation. Jameson Taillon underwent ankle surgery in October, Domingo Germán has long been inconsistent, Deivi García took several steps back in 2021, and Clarke Schmidt spent months on the shelf with a forearm injury.

Only Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery offer some reliability with an eye on the upcoming season. In the midst of all this chaos is Luis Severino.

Sevy remains a key part of the Yankees’ 2022 plans, as he is expected to pitch most of his innings as a starter. Nothing is set in stone, but that’s the most logical choice. It’s fair to wonder, though, about whether he can handle a full starter’s workload at the moment.

After a pair of stellar seasons as a frontline starter in 2017 (2.98 ERA, 5.6 fWAR) and 2018 (3.39 ERA, 5.4 fWAR), injury hell started in 2019 for Severino. He missed most of that season with right shoulder rotator cuff inflammation and a Grade 2 lat strain, although he returned to pitch 12 frames at the end of the season.

In March 2020, it was announced that Severino needed Tommy John surgery, and he missed the pandemic season and a huge portion of 2021. He was supposed to return around June or July last year, but a Grade 2 groin strain set him back while rehabbing in the minors. He eventually appeared in four games as a reliever.

It’s obviously unrealistic to expect the Yankees to have Severino throw 200, 190, or even 170 innings after such a long layoff. It’s just not going to happen. Three full seasons have come and gone since he’s even approached a full workload.

How can the Yankees limit the strain on Severino’s arm, while still getting meaningful innings out of him, considering they need him in the rotation? They’ll need to get creative. Here are some hypothetical solutions:

  • Having Severino begin the season as a reliever, and then start a transition to the rotation near the summer. He could be a valuable reliever in April and May, then slowly start to ramp up until he is fully stretched to throw around 90-100 pitches in a regular season game. Of course, this approach yielded mixed results over a decade ago, as the Yankees eased Joba Chamberlain into a starter’s role.
  • Limiting him to four or five innings per start for the first two months. The bullpen could be over-used in the games he pitches, but since it would be a plan, it doesn’t have to be improvised, and the team can call up an extra arm that day in preparation. Imagine Sevy being capped to four frames in April and May, five in June and July, before seeing restrictions lifted in August and September.
  • A six-man rotation. The organization doesn’t seem to be too enamored with the idea, and depth issues don’t allow it, anyway, at least not as currently constructed. Perhaps the concept could be revisited if the Yanks add an arm or two.
  • Skipping Severino for occasional turns may also help him stay fresh and preserve his arm through the long season. This could work, but the Yankees need some of the internal options in the organization, such as García, Schmidt, Luis Gil, or another pitcher, to step up.
  • Piggybacking Sevy with another starter to form a tandem capable of covering six or seven innings is an interesting concept. Several teams have done this and there is no reason why the Bombers can’t try it. It’s easy to envision Severino pumping gas for a few innings, before giving way to soft-tossing, crafty lefty Nestor Cortés Jr.

Those are just a few ideas. In the end, the number of innings Severino pitches will largely be dictated by his own evolution during the season, and the Yankees will likely take things slow with him. They do need him badly if he is healthy, though, and the main idea should be keeping him in one piece and putting him in a position to succeed. If they can get quality innings from him during the regular season and see him healthy in October, 2022 will have been a success.