There was a time not too long ago when Luis Severino couldn’t wait for his catcher to return the ball to him and get the signal for his next pitch. Not so much anymore. Something is missing. And once again, it’s that elusive thing called confidence that makes all the difference at this level…
Aaron Boone can see it. So can Larry Rothschild, the Yankees, pitching coach. I can see it, and no doubt you can see it as well. Luis Severino is not the same pitcher he was the first half of this season.
And it’s not just the gaudy ERA which has ballooned to 3.52 from a Cy Young caliber 1.98 following the All-Star break. Nor is it the slider that isn’t quite as biting as it was, or even the pinpoint command of his fastball we grew used to seeing. These are all results and not causes of what happens when a major league pitcher goes into a slump.
Some would say Severino’s workload is catching up to him, a total that includes 220+ innings pitched last season when the Yankees went deep into the playoffs. Tack on the 175 innings he has worked this year, and yes, Severino has been a workhorse and a reminder of CC Sabathia over the years. But then again, isn’t that what is expected from the ace of your staff?
Severino is listed at 6-2, 215 lbs. But anyone who has watched him pitch knows he is a far more menacing presence on the mound. He’s only 24, and someone that young aren’t supposed to look as weary and out of sorts as he’s appeared over the last month and a half.
We tend to know more about hitters who go into slumps more often than pitchers do. Position players change bats, look for certain pitches, take extra batting practice and a host of other ways to combat a slump. Pitchers, on the other hand, have no such recourse.
The ball is the authorized Major League ball, and they are confined to use it. Extra throwing between starts means risking injury and more fatigue. But as Yankees fans and fans of baseball are aware, there is no lonelier place than standing on the mound as the deliverer of the “action” in baseball when all eyes in the dugouts and stands are on you.
In the vernacular, it takes balls to be a major league pitcher. You control the game, as long as you can control yourself. And therein lies the crux of the problem with Luis Severino, and while we’re at it, we might as well throw Sonny Gray, and the Mets Zack Wheeler, together with Matt Harvey who has found new life in Cincinnati too.
Think for a minute Wheeler doesn’t take the mound now with a different mindset now than when he was an afterthought in the Met’s plans following a rash of injuries and setbacks following his acquisition from the Padres many moons ago, and reducing his ERA from 5.14 in June to 3.93 where it sits now? Watch him pitch and you’ll see the confidence oozing from his pores.
Luis Severino hasn’t forgotten how to pitch effectively. He still notches 97 on the gun, and his slider can yet be tamed to make hitters swing and miss all day long at pitches in the dirt they can’t hit. And even when disappointment with his backstop, Gary Sanchez, sets in as it did in his last start, Severino (in the past) has always been able to negate and overcome those things on his own. Where’s that confidence now? What remains is that faraway look in his eyes…(Video)
But we see that didn’t happen this time, did we? In fact, Severino made the Yankees troubles even worse by uncorking two wild pitches, allowing Oakland to zoom to an early 4-0 lead.
The trouble with all of this is only Luis Severino can make a difference. No amount of coaching, bullpen sessions, or words of kindness from the Yankees brass can fix Severino. And maybe, it won’t get set in time for the playoffs, leaving Severino with a long winter to figure out what happened to the confidence he displayed on the mound that led to the torturing of American League hitters in the first half of the season.
And from where the Yankees sit, Severino’s temporary demise, if it continues, is something the Yankees can probably live with. After all, the odds-on choice to make the do-or-die start against Oakland has to be J.A. Happ, who hasn’t lost a game since he donned the pinstripes.
And beyond Happ, Masahiro Tanaka could quickly get the start over Happ given the way he has elevated his game, with either one taking Game 1 of the Division Series followed by Sabathia, the sleeper of the Yankees pitching staff, just as he was last year.
Luis Severino makes the Yankees better, and we all want to see him figure this out. But in contrast to last season when he was given the ball by Joe Girardi in the one-game shootout because Severino “earned” it, the same can’t be said this year. That’s baseball, and the cruelties that come with it and the “what have you done for me lately” (hello Greg Bird) tag that rules all in October.
Last year, Severino’s disaster start against the Twins was a rude surprise for the Yankees and their fans. This year, if Boone were to give the ball to Severino, too many of us (I’m afraid) would be saying “I told you so” the next day.
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