New York Yankees

Luis Severino returns to lift Yankees toward AL pennant

Yankees RHP Luis Severino made his first start of the season on Tuesday against the Angels, pitching four solid innings.

Luis Severino made his long-awaited season debut for the Yankees on Tuesday, and by the way he pitched, it was like he never left.

Sure, he was facing an L.A. Angels lineup that was without Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but Severino still displayed the same type of overpowering stuff that made him an All-Star the previous two years. He pitched four shutout innings, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out four Angels hitters. His fastball was routinely clocked in the mid-90s and touched as high as 98 m.p.h. five times.

Severino was the ace of the Yankees’ pitching staff in 2017 and 2018. He was third in the American League with 33 victories over the past two seasons and had the sixth-lowest ERA at 3.18. But his 2019 season was cut short before it even began.

In March, Severino began experiencing inflammation in his rotator cuff that kept him out for the start of the season. While he was rehabbing that injury, he was diagnosed with a lat strain in April. It was only on Sept. 1 that Severino took the mound for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He pitched just one inning, giving up two runs on three hits. He got another rehab start with Double-A Trenton last Wednesday, going 3.2 innings.

His return to New York’s rotation — just in time for the postseason — should be a boost to the club’s World Series aspirations. The Yankees’ record didn’t suffer without him; they entered play on Tuesday tied with the Houston Astros for the best record in the AL at 98-53. But when paired with James Paxton, he gives the Yankees a perfect counter to the Astros’ own duo of Cy Young contenders in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

The tall, left-handed Paxton, acquired in an offseason trade with the Seattle Mariners, is undefeated in nine starts since the beginning of August. He’s holding hitters to a .168 batting average in that span, third in the AL behind Cole and Verlander, with a 2.50 ERA.

Manager Aaron Boone recognizes the importance of having Severino back if they’re going to beat Verlander and Cole in October. “This is a guy that, the last couple of years, obviously has been in the Cy Young conversation” (Severino finished third in Cy Young voting in 2017 and ninth last season), Boone told Newsday on Monday. “This is a guy that’s not only important in the short term to us but our long-term planning…You miss those kind of big innings, big outings a guy like that can give you and how he affects the rest of the staff as well. We’ve missed another great pitcher capable of matching up with other great pitchers around the league.”

Severino got off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Angels center fielder Brian Goodwin worked a leadoff walk in a 12-pitch at-bat to begin the game, then David Fletcher hit a single to left to put two runners on with no outs. Severino rebounded to get Kole Calhoun to ground into a forceout and Albert Pujols to hit into an inning-ending double play. He settled down from there, not surrendering another hit until Calhoun’s single to lead off the fourth inning. Severino was replaced by Jonathan Loaisiga after four innings and 67 pitches, 47 of them for strikes. The Yankees currently lead the Angels 8-0 in the ninth inning.

Next: Who do the Yankees want to face in the Playoffs?

It was an abbreviated debut, but one the Yankees waited more than five months for. And if Severino helps the Yankees win the club’s first pennant in a decade come October, it was well worth the wait.

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