Yankees dodge a bullet, now have to make a call on Luis Severino

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees got good news late Friday night on their 22-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, who left the game against the Chicago White Sox earlier in the night complaining of pain in the back of his right elbow.

The results of an MRI revealed nothing more serious that a strained triceps, which means no damage to the ulnar collateral ligament, and no need for the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

What it also means is that there's no medical explanation for what has ailed Severino in the first seven starts of his sophomore season, of which he has now lost six, with nothing even close to a victory.

At least if the MRI had turned up some structural damage, the Yankees could apply some logic to the illogical situation of a pitcher who was lights-out last year struggling to get anyone out this year.

Last Sunday, after Severino gave up three home runs to the Boston Red Sox in a 5-1 Yankees loss, Joe Girardi was asked if his team, at the time scuffling along at seven games under .500 and in last place in the AL East, could afford to continue running Severino out there to work out his problems on a major league mound.

"I actually think the kid is really close," Girardi said. "If he's throwing the ball like he did tonight, I think he's going to win games if we score runs."

But after Friday night's performance -- Severino gave up seven runs and seven hits in 2 2/3 innings of a 7-1 loss -- Giradi can no longer maintain the fiction that Severino is just a minor adjustment or two away from the kind of dominance he showed last season. And with the notion of serious injury no longer in play, there is really no other move for the Yankees to make.

They have to bite the bullet on Severino, the most highly prized pitcher in their farm system since Manny Banuelos -- who the Yankees eventually gave up on after his 2012 Tommy John surgery and shipped off to the Atlanta Braves, and who has not pitched in 2016 because of recurring elbow problems -- and send him back to Triple-A Scranton to find himself.

The numbers are stark, and devastating: Severino's ERA is 7.46. He has given up 49 hits in 35 innings, plus 10 walks and a hit batter. That's 60 baserunners in less than four total games. His WHIP (1.69) is higher than Chris Sale's ERA (1.67).

Even before he officially knew the results of Severino's MRI, Girardi gave indications that he was leaning the same way. Asked what -- assuming he was healthy until his final pitch, a 95-mph fastball to Jimmy Rollins that landed in the right-field seats -- caused Severino to be so ineffective, Girardi practically bit off the words in frustration.

"Command," he said. "He had no command. Bottom line, he had no command. He was not throwing the baseball where he wanted. He walked guys, he left balls up, he missed his spots. No command."

And when pressed on whether he would now once again consider demoting Severino if he was found to be healthy, Girardi executed a neat bit of evasion. "Well, I mean we talk about a lot of things," he said. "I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk to anyone yet. I came in here first."

But for a manager who did not know for sure whether his pitcher was seriously injured, Girardi certainly sounded irritated. Through the first five starts of Severino's 2016 season, more than a few theories were floated for why he went from Superman to Underdog seemingly overnight. One was that he was rushing on the mound and screwing up his mechanics. Another was that he was throwing his breaking stuff too hard, and there wasn't enough separation in velocity between his changeup, his slider and his fastball. A third, and the most popular, seemed to be that having seen him a couple of times now, the hitters around the league had adjusted to Severino's bag of tricks and he had yet to adjust back.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the Yankees resident sage of all things mound-related, was nowhere to be found in the postgame clubhouse Friday night to offer his opinion.

But clearly, something needs to be done. Friday's loss -- a complete game, incidentally, by Chris Sale, who at 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA already has a huge head start on the AL Cy Young Award -- wiped out the good feelings around the Yankees from taking three of four from the defending world champion Kansas City Royals earlier in the week. And the lack of hitting, even against Sale, negated the offensive explosion of Thursday's 7-3 win and the sudden resurgence of Chase Headley, who provided the Yankees' only run Friday, hitting his second home run in two days.

Suddenly, the Yankees' rotation, full of question marks before the season began, is in full collapse mode. Michael Pineda has looked horrific, Nathan Eovaldi is wildly inconsistent, Ivan Nova is a temporary starter and CC Sabathia is still on the disabled list because of a groin injury. Only Masahiro Tanaka has been better than so-so, and he got bombed in his last outing, although the Yankees wound up winning 10-7.

And now, it is obvious that Luis Severino, once a rising star, is no longer ready for prime time.

The injury, however minor, will land him on the disabled list for at least 15 days. In that time, the Yankees can elevate right-hander Luis Cessa, who hasn't pitched particularly well at Scranton (0-1, 4.18) but is on the 40-man roster, or Chad Green, another right-hander, who has pitched well (2-3, 1.21 ERA) but is not on the 40-man and would necessitate someone being moved off to join the big club.

And, of course, there also is two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum out there to be had, although the Yankees reportedly are not on the list of teams he is interested in joining.

In any event, it is way too early to write off a pitcher with the natural talent of Severino after 18 big league starts and just over 100 big league innings. But his immediate future is in Scranton, not the Bronx.

And it is time for the Yankees to make that call, for Severino's good and theirs.