Severino determined to learn from past struggles

After two up & down seasons, Luis Severino reflects on his exponential leap in 2017
Luis Severino ready to chase another championship after stellar 2017.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

For Luis Severino, such was the hard lesson derived from what appeared to be a disastrous postseason debut against the Minnesota Twins, last October 3, at Yankee Stadium.

An upstart Yankees club was on the verge of a blistering postseason run, but they had to win the do-or-die Wild Card game against the Twins, who leapt out to a 3-0 lead in the first.

After putting a bow on his best career regular season to date, Severino surrendered four hits, three earned runs and two homers to Minnesota batters, notching just one out before he would be pulled from his very first postseason start.

"I think my first game played, I was trying to do too much," Severino told YES Network during the first week of spring camp. "So I came and sat and [thought about] the wrong things that I did in that game."

It didn't take long for Severino's teammates to pick him up that night, as they responded with three equalizing runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Just like that, it was a new ballgame.

By the end of the night, Luis was popping celebratory champagne bottles in the clubhouse alongside his fellow teammates, as they went on to defeat the Twins 8-4 in front of their hometown fans, advancing to face the Indians in the ALDS.

"I learned how to treat every game like it is the first of the season," Severino said, reflecting on his turbulent playoff debut. "The second game, I did better. I think that helped me a lot."

Few would argue that Severino, the 6-foot-2 velocity machine out of the Dominican Republic, was the best starting pitcher in pinstripes a year ago, and without his year-long efforts to win ballgames for the Bombers, the team wouldn't have been in the position they were to secure a Wild Card berth, much less home field advantage.

Only three other pitchers in Yankees history had struck out at least 230 batters in a season before Severino accomplished the feat at the age of 23, and in 21 games, Severino struck out at least seven batters, setting a new Yankees franchise record. No Major League pitcher threw more starts allowing one run or fewer (16) all season.

While the franchise records paint a clearer picture of just how dominant Severino was for the Yankees last year, he did his best to appreciate the moment when the time came for his first postseason start.

"That was my first playoff game, so it was fun because I've played on the team and in the system with Judge, with Gary, with Greg Bird, those guys," Severino said. "Everybody was having fun when the expectation was real low for the Yankees, and we almost made it to the World Series."

The same cannot be said for expectations entering the 2018 season in the Bronx, where Severino will once again be looked upon to lead the Yankees starting staff deep into October. Last year may have established the Bombers as contenders, but this year's aspirations are legitimately back to World-Series-or-bust.

But before turning his focus toward the future, Severino took time this offseason to try and learn from the mistakes he did make in an otherwise sensational season.

Severino's 2.98 ERA in 2017 was the lowest posted by any qualified Yankees starter since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) did it two decades prior, and over his final eight outings that season, Severino went 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA, holding batters to a .162 average over that span.

There was no shortage of momentum entering his first-ever playoff run, but Severino learned the hard way that the playoffs are an entirely different monster than the 162-game grind of the spring and summer.

"Not every day you're going to have a good outing," Severino said. "My first playoff game wasn't the greatest, but I came back and [the fans] saw that I was a fighter."

In his second postseason start, this time against the dynamic Indians lineup, Severino was back to his marvelous self. He baffled Cleveland hitters over seven strong innings, and struck out nine batters while allowing four hits and three runs - the same number he surrendered in just 1/3 of an inning his previous start.

"I heard everybody calling my name and that was special," Severino said of the fan support he earned last postseason.

"I worked hard to be in that position. My 2016 season wasn't the best one, so I worked for that and my work paid off, and that meant a lot for me," he added.

Though Severino first landed on baseball fans' radars when he debuted at age 21 in August of 2015, the hard-throwing righty endured a slew of ups and downs before metamorphosing into the ace-level starter he was in 2017. 

Injuries, a demotion to Triple-A, a move to the bullpen and a subsequently rocky return to the rotation characterized Sevy's up-and-down 2016 campaign, but just as he resiliently showed last October, those struggles only helped to battle-harden him as he looks to become a bona fide ace for the Yankees.

"A lot of people [have asked] me if I'm the ace, or if I'm going to be. I really don't care about anything like that," Severino said. "I just want to be able to have fun and try to be the best person that I possibly can. I just want to have fun and want to do the best job I possibly can do."

This season looks to be one full of fun and exciting moments for the Yankees and their legions of fans across the globe, as defending NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton enters the fold on a team with World Series hopes within their grasp.

There should be no shortage of offense to support Severino and his staff-mates, but that's not where his focus lies.

"We're going to be a great scoring team this year. Everybody is expecting us to hit a lot of homers," Severino explained, "but as a starting pitcher ... that's not the kind of world that [we're in]. We want to go out there and throw seven shutout innings, even when [the offense] scores ten runs or seven runs."

Whatever the year brings for Severino and his teammates, expectations will be higher than they've ever been for the largely homegrown crop of players leading the charge into 2018.

As first-year manager Aaron Boone has echoed to his players, the Bombers are getting ready to "embrace the hype" as the Yankees set out to achieve their perennial goal of adding another World Series championship to the trophy case.

One person who will be eager to answer the challenge is Luis Severino, who likes his team's odds.

"I think we have great chance this year."