DETROIT — Sometimes, the measure of a good pitcher is not how he deals when he’s at the top of his game, but how he battles when he’s not.
Luis Severino’s fourth inning on Wednesday night was a solid example of the latter. And considering the Yankees’ offensive struggles of late, his return to the rotation couldn’t have come at a better time.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, necessarily, but I thought he navigated really well,” manager Aaron Boone said following the 5-3 win against the Tigers at Comerica Park. “He made really big pitches. And I thought he finished great.”
Boone admitted that lately it’s felt like some pitchers are “feeling for their stuff a little bit” during the sudden unseasonable cold stretch, and while Severino was no different, he held firm when it mattered.
Of the seven hits Severino scattered across his five innings, just one went for extra bases: a Jeimer Candelario double to open the bottom of the second inning. Candelario scored the game’s first run two batters later, but if the Tigers thought Severino was beginning to crack, they were going to be disappointed.
Let’s not forget, this is the same guy who just 11 days ago made his first start since 2019. If there’s rust to be had, Severino surely should’ve had some.
The way he worked the fourth inning suggested otherwise.
Severino first exacted revenge on Candelario, who grounded out to short on the first offering he saw. Next came Miguel Cabrera, who sits just one shy of the 3,000-hits milestone after a trio of singles on Wednesday. Cabrera fought for seven pitches before tapping the eighth up the middle.
A seven-pitch at-bat against Victor Reyes ended in a single, then Spencer Torkelson walked on six pitches to load the bases and prompt a mound visit. There was still just one out.
Severino dug deep though, locking horns with Harold Castro for nine pitches, the longest at-bat of the night on either side. When Castro eventually lined out to short, there was a hint of a bounce in Severino’s step. He had, it seemed, turned a corner for the night, and he proved as much by dispatching catcher Tucker Barnhart on three consecutive four-seamers that topped out at 97.3 mph.
Then it was definitely time to celebrate for Severino, who thumped his chest and roared as he jogged off the hill, head held high.
“That was really huge for us,” Severino said. “We had the bases loaded there and anything can happen in that situation.”
Severino faced just six batters in the frame but needed 34 pitches to get the job done, bulldogging through one nine-pitch at-bat and two other extended battles of eight and seven pitches. All of that, hanging on to a 2-1 lead for a Yankees squad that has had seven of 12 games this season decided by two or fewer runs and is 26th in MLB in total bases with runners in scoring position.
Boone figured Severino had earned the right to go out for the fifth, but he admitted his starter was on a short leash. Severino rewarded his skipper’s faith with a pair of strikeouts that bookended a short popout to end on a high note.
“I thought it was his best inning,” Boone said. “Really clean delivery. You know, finished with the top of the order, I thought, throwing the ball really well to finish strong. He made big pitches when he needed to tonight and gave us what we needed.”
Three starts and 13 innings into the 2022 season, Severino is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA. More importantly, he and the rest of the arms, who have collectively pitched to an AL-best 2.52 ERA, are proving more than capable of holding down the fort and limiting damage until the offense comes around.
“My mentality was to give my team a chance to win,” Severino said. “Keep the game close. I know that when I don’t have my best stuff, I can still get through a lineup. I’m not gonna get 20 strikeouts or something like that, but, you know, I can manage myself to get through five or six good innings.”
With guys like DJ LeMahieu, who has a seven-game hit streak, and Aaron Judge, who’s reached safely in each of his 11 starts this season, it’s really only a matter of time.