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Yankees spring training: Luis Severino looks to be on the right track

Could Luis Severino’s spring debut be a sign of things to come?

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Severino looked good on Sunday afternoon in his first start of spring training, striking out a batter and allowing a walk in two innings of work. When it comes to the state of the Yankees starting rotation, all eyes will be on the 23-year-old right-hander as they hope to harness the promise he exuded in 2015. He took his first step towards actualizing his potential on Sunday by displaying the changeup he has been asked to work on.

Last year’s immense struggles can at least partially be attributed to Severino’s abandonment of his changeup. Any successful starting pitcher needs at least three pitches, and he is no different. After losing confidence in the pitch, Severino struggled mightily in the rotation. His 8.50 ERA in 47.2 innings was enough to see the Yankees bury him in the minors while they struggled to fill his spot.

This offseason, Severino was asked to improve his flexibility, so he concentrated less on weightlifting and more on stretching and exercise to remain limber. The idea was that he was too big and bulky to execute his pitches correctly, and as a result, hitters were figuring him out easier. This year he came into camp 10-12 pounds lighter, and the results could already be showing up.

In his two innings of work yesterday, Severino displayed the kind of changeup that the Yankees have been asking for. It had movement, it was accurate, and most importantly, it was effective. Part of the reason was that his fastball and changeup were an appropriate distance apart in terms of miles per hour.

Typically, you want your changeup to be 10 mph slower than your fastball in order to properly set up the pitch and trick hitters. Severino’s changeup has typically been around 7.5 mph slower, but in this spring appearance, he was at 10 mph. His changeup was 88 mph, and while it is usually 87-88 mph, the difference in this outing was his fastball. It is usually 95-96 mph but sat at 98 mph in this appearance. As nice as this is to see, it’s easy to wonder if this will ultimately be sustainable. Severino clearly has the arm strength, but can he keep it up over a full start?

This offseason, Severino worked with Pedro Martinez to streamline his delivery and improve his changeup. Apparently, he did not alter his changeup grip, but instead he worked to throw his change from the same angle that he throws his fastball from. This should help to disguise his change more and keep hitters from sitting back on it. Opponents did just that in 2016 when they compiled a .148 ISO against the pitch after a .037 the year before.

It’s hard to say exactly how much this one pitch will weigh on his success in 2017. He looked extremely bad last season for a lot of different reasons. One of which was incredibly poor fastball command. It’s just one appearance so far, but the command doesn’t look to be any better this year. If his fastball isn’t going to reach the strike zone, it’s hard to blame it all on the change. Then again, a wild fastball means he will need more from his secondary pitches.

Either way, he will be an interesting player to watch this spring. One start won’t tell us all we need to know, but it was certainly reassuring that he can be effective. Let’s just hope he can keep it up as his outings become longer.