Luis Severino's return bolsters Yankees' postseason hopes just in time

The right-hander has been electric in his first two starts of the season
Luis Severino has 13 strikeouts over nine innings since returning to the Yankees last week. (AP)

Luis Severino has 13 strikeouts over nine innings since returning to the Yankees last week. (AP)
Luis Severino is back at just the right time for the Yankees.
After missing nearly the entire season, the team's ace right-hander has returned and fired nine scoreless innings across two starts. Severino has looked every bit the pitcher that fronted New York's rotation for the past two years, which bodes well for the Yankees' October chances.
Making his season debut Tuesday, Severino tossed 67 pitches across four innings against the Angels, holding a Mike Trout-less lineup to two hits and two walks. 
Los Angeles wasn't necessarily the most challenging group the 25-year-old righty could have faced, but the Angels did give him a tough first inning, placing men on the corners with one out. Severino refused to wilt and induced a double play from Albert Pujols.

Severino looked most of the way back to being himself over the four frames. He averaged 96.6 mph on his fastball, just one mph down from 2018, while his slider was slower (84.4 mph) but had depth and got swings and misses.
One might expect some drop-off in his next start. After all, with his season debut and his return to the Bronx, Severino couldn't help but have adrenaline coursing through his veins.
But Severino suffered no step back. Instead, he dominated the Blue Jays over five innings. The right-hander surrendered just three hits and a hit-by-pitch while striking out nine in a walk-less victory. 

Severino's pitches darted out of his hand as if he were in midseason form. He maintained fastball velocity into the end of his start, and Toronto's hitters were helpless in catching up to it. When they expected a fastball, he unlocked an improved slider with more velocity and spin, using his main offspeed offering to get four strikeouts. Beyond movement, Severino had pinpoint command from the first batter of the afternoon.
Severino worked his way up to 80 pitches in his second start. He's scheduled to pitch against the Rangers in Texas on Saturday for his final regular season start and would presumably be able to eclipse 90-95 pitches in that game.
That would leave Severino fully stretched out heading into October. With a dominant bullpen backing Severino, the Yankees don't need him to throw complete games or even pitch beyond the fifth inning many nights. New York can ride off shorter outings against elite opponents if Severino is his normal effective self.
"It's not about me," Severino said after his start Sunday. "We have a great team. I'm not going to face [Justin] Verlander. It'll be my guys who face Verlander. I just need to go out there and get 5-6 good innings. I think we can match with any team, any time."
The weight of pitching like an ace won't be squarely on Severino's shoulders. James Paxton has won each of his last 10 starts and looks like the potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Yankees acquired 10 months ago. Aaron Boone can ride Paxton for longer outings and keep his bullpen ready to work behind Severino and Masahiro Tanaka later in a series.
With five months on the shelf, Severino told reporters Sunday that he feels fresher without the mileage of a normal season's workload. That provides the Yankees with another weapon just in time for their pursuit of a 28th World Series title.