Mets hoping Severino can rediscover his potential in '24

Starter resembles old self with two scoreless spring frames

March 1st, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- From 2017-18, Luis Severino was one of baseball’s best pitchers, full stop. Only three pitchers won more games than him over that stretch. Only seven had more strikeouts. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings combined those two seasons, only eight had a lower WHIP and 10 featured a lower ERA. Severino made the American League All-Star team both years.

Then the injuries arrived, Severino pitched a total of 18 innings from 2019-21, and he hasn’t been quite the same since. Following a solid half-season in 2022, Severino was statistically one of the worst pitchers in the Majors last season, producing a 6.65 ERA on the 19 occasions he was healthy enough to take the mound.

That history is why the Mets were able to sign Severino for $13 million this offseason -- a relative pittance if he comes even close to resembling his prime self. And so far this spring, Severino has resembled his prime self. He hit 97.8 mph on the radar gun during two scoreless innings Friday in a 3-2 Mets loss to the Cardinals, offering glimpses of what he can still be if everything clicks.

“He’s done it before,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “He knows what it feels like. So now it’s just building him up, and all the things that we’ve talked about, continuing to check those boxes.”

The boxes Severino must check are manifold. First, there’s his health, which all parties involved say is sound. Years of shoulder, elbow and lat injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2020, are in the past. The pitch tipping issues that dogged Severino last summer are an easy fix, according to team officials. Then there is Severino’s overall arsenal, which he began bolstering with a cutter in 2021 and a sinker in 2022. Both are now important weapons for him. Off the field, Severino has even revamped his sleep and wellness habits.

To be clear, none of this is evidence that Severino will remain healthy and productive throughout the regular season. He’s enjoyed these sorts of moments before, lighting up spring radar guns and tantalizing onlookers with his talent. Until Severino actually goes out and makes 20-plus starts during the regular season -- he hasn’t hit that number since 2018, back when he was 24 years old -- this is all just unfulfilled potential.

But it doesn’t hurt to look the part.

Severino opened Friday’s game with a 93.5 mph fastball that Dylan Carlson fouled off. Carlson eventually reached on an error, but Severino induced the next batter, Paul Goldschmidt, to top a 96 mph sinker and fly into a double play. He didn’t allow another baserunner, throwing a 97.8 mph fastball -- his fastest pitch of the game – to strike out Matt Carpenter on a foul tip to end the second.

“I have some in the tank,” Severino said. “I was just waiting for the perfect time to do it.”

According to Hefner, everything plays off that fastball for Severino. Fixing it meant reestablishing some distance between his four-seamer and breaking balls to make his five-pitch mix less predictable to hitters.

“Put yourself in his shoes,” Hefner said. “You anticipate the ball to do a certain thing, and it’s not doing that certain thing, and the hitters are squaring the ball up? It can get challenging.”

From his vantage, Severino understands that this is an important year. He admitted to feeling a little extra pressure when Kodai Senga suffered a shoulder injury, effectively shifting Severino from a mid-rotation role toward the front of that group. Although Jose Quintana is likely to start Opening Day for the Mets, with Severino pitching Game 2, the latter’s ceiling is the highest of anyone in the rotation. As such, the Mets’ aspirations depend in large part on him rediscovering his potential.

“He’s been through a lot in the past couple of years with injuries,” said manager Carlos Mendoza, who has known Severino since they were both in the Minors. “But now he’s in a good place. It’s important. This is a big year for him, and we’re going to need him. We’re counting on him. I’m excited to see Sevy returning to his old form.”