There will be a day this season, or hopefully a day this season, when Luis Severino will pitch for the Yankees. Whenever that day is, if that day comes, it will be just the sixth time Severino has pitched in an actual game since Oct. 8, 2018.
That night, of course, was the night of the disastrous ALDS Game 3. The game in which Severino apparently didn’t know the start time of it and the proceeded to allow six earned runs on seven hits in three-plus innings, including seven batted balls with exit velocities of at least 100 mph.
Since that miserable night, Severino has made three regular-season starts and two postseason starts, all coming in September and October 2019. Severino’s absence during the 2019 regular season cost the Yankees the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason and home-field advantage in yet another ALCS loss to the Astros. His absence in 2020 cost them the best 1-2 rotation punch in the AL and possibly baseball, and led to an early postseason exit.
Severino’s injuries the last two seasons haven’t been unusual for pitchers of his caliber who throw as hard as he does. His workload and additional October starts from a young age all played a factor in the shoulder, lat and elbow injuries, but it didn’t help the Yankees misdiagnosed and mishandled his injuries the way they have for many other Yankees in recent years.
After enduring the mysterious statements, announcements and timelines for Aaron Hicks’ back injury, Giancarlo Stanton’s biceps, shoulder and calf injuries and Aaron Judge’s broken rib and collapsed lung, the story behind Severino’s three injuries is just as confusing.
How did we get here? Here being Severino having pitched 20 1/3 innings for the Yankees since October 2018. Let’s go through it all.
On March 5, 2019, Severino is scratched from his first spring training start after saying he experienced a “pull” in his right arm. The following day, he’s diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation and is shut down for two weeks. The right-hander tells the media it’s “nothing bad” and thinks he’ll be able to begin a throwing program after his two-week shutdown. He adds that it’s better to deal with the injury now than “midseason.”
Less than three weeks later, on March 23, Severino is examined and no issues are found, allowing him to begin to work his way back. In early April, Severino progresses to long tossing at 130 feet, but doesn’t feel well enough to begin throwing off a mound.
On April 9, the Yankees announce Severino had an MRI the day before which revealed a Grade 2 (out of 3) lat strain. The team announced he would be shut down from throwing for six weeks.
“I don’t know if relief’s the right word, but it’s a little bit like, ‘OK, now we know what it is,” Aaron Boone said. “A little relief that it’s not a surgery thing. There’s a little comfort in knowing this is what it is. It appears to be treatable. It’s going to take some time and hopefully we’ll get a healthy, strong and fresh Sevy back for a good portion of the season.”
On June 30, as the Yankees opened a two-game series with the Red Sox in London, Boone reported Severino had suffered a setback while rehabbing his lat injury. An MRI showed his lat was only 90 percent healed. Yes, Severino was rehabbing with an injury not yet fully healed.
“Clearly, in hindsight, he never should have started throwing program,” Cashman said. “He passed all his physical testing. He was strong. They made a determination not to do an MRI. And normally they don’t do an MRI to follow up after the down period of time. They test him out.”
Despite being the Yankees’ best starting pitcher, the most valuable member of their pitching staff, and an arm the Yankees committed $40 million before the shoulder injury, “they” determined not to make sure he was completely healed before allowing him to return to throwing.
“He doesn’t like going in the MRI tube,” Cashman said. “So it’s something I know he would have pushed back on. But clearly, if we could’ve turn the clock back, we would have done an MRI maybe three weeks ago now. But it wasn’t done. We can’t change that. So we just did one before we left here, after the complaint, and we’ll do another one now, and we’ll keep doing them until we know he’s clear.”
Severino returns to the Yankees on Sept. 17 and shuts out the Angels for four innings. Five days later, he throws a five-inning shutout against the Blue Jays. He makes one last regular-season start on Sept. 28 and finishes his three-start postseason preparation with the following line: 12 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 17 K, 1.50 ERA, 1.000 WHIP.
Severino makes two postseason starts (Game 3 of both the ALDS and ALCS). After his ALCS Game 3 start and while preparing to start a potential Game 7, Severino alerts the Yankees of right elbow discomfort.
On Feb. 20, 2020, Severino is scratched from throwing his second bullpen session of spring training and doesn’t participate in pitchers’ fielding drills either. At the end of the day’s workout, Boone says Severino has been dealing with forearm discomfort that started after Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS, which was more than four months prior.
“I would say that the October issue was more of a low-level signal,” Cashman said. “He had mentioned a little soreness … It was more of a throwaway comment.”
Ah, yes, the old throwaway comment from your best starting pitcher about his throwing elbow.
It had become commonplace for a Yankee to suffer an injury from the previous season and months prior and for it to go untreated. James Paxton had to go undergo back surgery at the start of spring training in 2020 for an injury suffered in his last regular-season start in 2019, and Aaron Judge would be out as well with a mysterious shoulder injury sustained during the 2019 season that wouldn’t be properly diagnosed as a broken rib and collapsed lung until three-plus months later into 2020.
Severino spoke to the media and said the discomfort is in one spot in the forearm near the elbow, the ultimate precursor to Tommy John surgery.
“My elbow, shoulder and my whole arm is pretty good,” Severino said. “Like I said, I’ve been throwing really hard, I feel like my fastball is running pretty good, so I’m not worried about a spot other than that one.”
Cashman announced Severino had two MRIs in the offseason, one in December and one in January. For a pitcher who “doesn’t like going in the MRI tube,” that’s two MRIs in two months on top of all the MRIs he underwent in 2019. According to Cashman, Severino also had a CT scan for his elbow. All tests were negative.
“I just want to pitch,” Severino said. “I’ve been doing all the things that they wanted me to do in the offseason to come here healthy. I was pretty good, I was feeling healthy until [Thursday].”
Boone spoke to the media and like pulling teeth, some more information started to come to light. Severino had been treated with anti-inflammatories in January, and testing revealed a “loose body” near his elbow, which the team attributed to an incidental, unrelated finding. Because whenever there is a loose body floating around in your elbow, it’s nothing to worry about! Boone continued that Severino had stayed away from his changeup in the spring, and when he began throwing it, the pain returned.
“We reintroduced [the] changeup the last couple of days on flat ground, no issues with that,” Boone said. “And then last night, just sitting at home, he started to feel that soreness again. So we’ll shut him down here for a couple days and hopefully try and get to what exactly is going on in there.”
Cashman said Severino was taking a new anti-inflammatory and would see team physician Dr. Ahmad on Friday.
“Injuries are part of the game,” Cashman said as the general manager overseeing the team that set the all-time record for most players placed on the injured list in a single season. “Dealing with injuries is part of the game. Assessing what a particular injury is and the level of that injury is obviously very difficult.”
Despite the pain, discomfort and Severino pointing to the spot on his forearm, Cashman said no new tests were scheduled. He also said he didn’t think his pitcher’s current issue was related to his 2019 shoulder and lat injuries.
The plan for no new tests didn’t last long as Severino would have an MRI arthrogram five days after being shut down, and the arthrogram showed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. On Feb. 25, Cashman announced Severino needed Tommy John surgery.
“Yesterday, it was the first time that those repeated physical testings showed he was getting response,” Cashman said. “So the conclusion with the physical and the MRI arthrogram is Tommy John.”
The Yankees plan on getting Severino back sometime during the 2021 season, and as of now, they don’t have a contingency plan if he suffers any setbacks and is unavailable in 2021. The Yankees lost three starting pitchers to free agency and have yet to add to a rotation, which currently only has four actual members, including two rookies and a pitcher 48 innings removed from his own Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees desperately need Severino to return in 2021 and return as his old self. With Severino healthy and right, the Yankees have the best front end of a rotation in the AL. Without him, they’re in a lot of trouble.
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