Yankees’ Luis Severino Scratched, Raising Doubts About Opening Day
The Yankees’ tenuous rotation depth took a significant hit Tuesday when the right-hander Luis Severino was found to have rotator cuff inflammation in his throwing shoulder, almost certainly ruling him out as the team’s opening day starter on March 28.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone told reporters that Severino, who had been scheduled to make his first spring training start Tuesday, felt some discomfort and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging examination, which found nothing beyond the rotator cuff problem. Severino will be treated with an injection and anti-inflammatories, and will take two weeks of rest. The time off will make him “highly unlikely” to be ready for the start of the season, Boone said.
Severino said he felt the discomfort while warming up for his start in Tampa, Fla. He was scratched and replaced by the prospect Stephen Tarpley.
As a result, the Yankees, with an unproven staff of starters beyond the top five arms in their rotation, are likely to begin the season without two of their best pitchers, Severino and C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is coming back from off-season operations on his heart and knee, and also faces a five-game suspension to start the season from an incident in which he threw at Tampa Bay’s Jesus Sucre in a game last fall.
Boone told reporters that Domingo German, 26, and Jonathan Loaisiga, 24, were candidates to take Severino’s spot to start the season. German had a 5.57 earned run average in 85⅔ innings last season, while Loaisiga posted a 5.11 E.R.A. in 24⅔ innings. Luis Cessa, 26, also capable of starting, is a candidate to make the season-opening bullpen.
Severino, 25, is the Yankees’ top starter and was one of the best pitchers in the American League last season, with a 3.39 E.R.A. that led all of the team’s regular starting pitchers. He was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million contract extension last month.
Although two weeks is a small amount of time relative to the six-month regular season, any injury involving a pitcher’s elbow or shoulder is concerning. Severino’s ailment could push the Yankees to redouble their efforts to add another starter from the few remaining veteran free agents who wouldn’t break the bank, a group that includes players like Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson.
The injury is a worrying omen for a rotation that seemed to be improved entering spring training. The Yankees had re-signed Sabathia and J.A. Happ, who was acquired in a midseason trade last season, and added James Paxton.
But injuries are all but inevitable with pitchers: Paxton is a talented hard-thrower but has recorded more than 140 innings in a season only once in his career. Happ has averaged 170 innings a season over the past five years, but he turned 36 in October. Sabathia is 38, entering his final season and is weeks behind his colleagues this spring because of his off-season operations. Masahiro Tanaka, 30, who has pitched with a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow, has averaged 165 innings a year since the start of the 2014 season.
Depending on the length on Severino’s absence, the Yankees’ off-season restraint in reinforcing their rotation may come into question. While they did trade prospects to acquire Paxton, they failed to reach a deal with Patrick Corbin, the top free-agent starting pitcher this off-season. Corbin passed on the Yankees’ five-year, $100 million offer to join the Washington Nationals, who gave him a six-year, $140 million contract.
Severino also is not the only key Yankee already dealing with an injury. Center fielder Aaron Hicks, who signed a contract extension last month, has not played since Friday because of discomfort in his lower back.
Hicks told reporters that it would be several more days before he resumed batting practice or appeared in a game.