Severino says changeup key to his success

Yanks urge young righty to reclaim offspeed pitch, expand repertoire

Severino says changeup key to his success

TAMPA, Fla. -- Luis Severino showed flashes of brilliance as a starter two years ago, then struggled mightily once handed a rotation spot the next spring. The difference, the Yankees believe, was directly related to the dwindling confidence in his changeup.

That was why the Yankees sent Severino home with marching orders, instructing the right-hander to focus on reclaiming that offspeed pitch. The early results looked good Sunday, as Severino hurled two scoreless, hitless innings in a 7-2 Grapefruit League victory over the Blue Jays.

"For me, it's the most important pitch," Severino said. "Not just for me, but everybody. You can't be a starter with two pitches. You have to have more than two pitches to be a starter."

It was a lesson that Severino absorbed the hard way, trying to get through big league lineups with just a fastball and slider to trust. He was 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA in 11 starts but later found success out of the bullpen, where he was 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA in 11 appearances.

Severino strikes out Tellez

"His command wasn't as good and people saw it, especially in our division," manager Joe Girardi said. "They knew who he was and they knew that he had a good fastball and a good slider, and so when you're trying to get through a lineup a second and third time, you have to incorporate more than two pitches or you'd better be really, really good at locating your other two."

While Severino struck out 25 in 23 1/3 relief innings, the Yankees refuse to forget his 11 starts at the tail end of 2015, when he helped the team secure an American League Wild Card berth by going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA.

Girardi points out that the 23-year-old Severino is essentially still just a college senior, believing that it would be premature to give up on him as a starter.

"I think it's too good of an arm. There's too much potential there," Girardi said.

Leaner and more flexible after eschewing weightlifting and reporting to camp 10 to 12 pounds lighter, Severino walked one and struck out one in his two innings against a lefty-heavy lineup Sunday, saying that his changeup, fastball and slider all felt good.

"He was very consistent today with the changeup. He kept it low," catcher Gary Sanchez said through an interpreter. "And I've seen it; he's working on it. He consistently works on it. So I think keeping it low was the key."

During his workouts in the Dominican Republic, several of which included observations from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, Severino said that he did not alter his changeup grip. Instead, he worked to throw it from the same angle as his fastball, something that he tried without success to fix last year.

"It's difficult in the season to work in the big leagues because you have the competition, you have to compete in the big leagues," Severino said. "It's difficult to work on some pitches. That's why I think they pushed me to the bullpen, so I could work better over there."

Severino is competing against a group that includes Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren to fill the Yanks' final two rotation spots, and said he would be disappointed if he falls short.

"Of course. I want to be a starter," Severino said. "But if they see something and need me in the bullpen, I've got to do my job."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.