NEW YORK -- Strategizing with the type of paradoxical logic that could only be useful on a pitcher's mound, Luis Severino came to realize Wednesday that in order to prove he can be a starter, he had to start thinking like a reliever.
Severino entered Wednesday's 9-5 Yankees win over the Mets in the fourth inning with a three-run lead and two outs. Starter Chad Green left Severino two men on base and exited just in time for the youngster to face off against Yoenis Céspedes, the Mets' most powerful and most productive hitter.
There's a certain strategy involved with coming in to face your first hitter of the game. And Severino is used to thinking as a starter. After all, he's made 18 starts this season between Triple-A and the big leagues. So his starter's instincts told him to pepper Cespedes with fastballs. But then he changed his mind. He isn't a starter at the moment. It was time to stop thinking like one.
"I know that they think I'm a starter. They think I'm going to throw [over] the middle," Severino said of his opponents. "So I had to think like a reliever and throw him a breaking ball."
The 22-year-old used his slider to his advantage, freezing Cespedes to start the at-bat and getting him to chase one in the dirt to end the inning. Severino followed that by promptly retiring the next six batters he faced and steadying the Yankees after Green allowed 12 baserunners in his 3 2/3 innings.
In all, Severino worked 4 1/3 solid innings, earning his first win of the season and allowing just one unearned run on one hit and one walk, striking out five along the way. To Yankees manager Joe Girardi, it wasn't just Severino's approach that set this outing apart. It was also his ability to put his pitches where he wanted to.
"He did an outstanding job," Girardi said. "His slider, obviously we've talked about, has been better. But I thought his fastball command has been better and he even threw a few changeups, and I think that can get better, too. But tonight I think is the best I've seen [him]."
Girardi credited Severino's improved command to a slight mechanical tweak. As Severino explained, he had been tipping his fastball in blatant fashion, bobbing his head and rocking backward to rear up for a heater. Severino transitioned away from that Wednesday and he also began to work faster to the plate, finding a rhythm more easily.
And getting into that rhythm might be exactly what Severino needs. This was Severino's third appearance from the bullpen in the last eight days. Over those three appearances, Severino hasn't allowed an earned run in 8 1/3 innings and has struck out 10, a stat line that most starters would envy.
With the success piling up and the timing issue seemingly resolved, the natural assumption is that a re-insertion into the starting rotation will be coming soon. Girardi said that he and his staff haven't discussed that yet, but the plan is still for Severino to be a starter down the line.
For Severino, that's assuring to hear. But it doesn't change his new outlook in any way.
"I want to be a starter," Severino said. "But if I'm going to be in the bullpen, I have to do my job. If I'm going to be in the rotation, I have to do my job."