DUNEDIN, Fla. — Standing outside the visitors’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon at TD Ballpark, general manager Brian Cashman uttered words about Luis Severino’s right elbow that could wreck his club’s dream of winning the World Series for the first time since 2009.
“[The] doctors concluded that Tommy John surgery is necessary,’’ spilled slowly out of the Cashman’s mouth and immediately added to the Yankees’ list of ailing starting pitchers.
Severino was sent to New York on Sunday to begin three days of testing to find the reason for soreness in his right forearm whenever he threw a changeup.
After two MRIs and a CT scan during the offseason didn’t uncover a torn UCL, Severino underwent a nerve-conductor test, which was negative, and a CT scan, which also was negative. However, a dye contrast MRI, otherwise known as a MRI arthrogram, discovered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Cashman said his gut told him the issue goes back to Severino saying his forearm was sore after Game 3 of last year’s ALCs against the Astros. The soreness vanished and Severino was slated to pitch Game 7 had the Yankees not been eliminated in Game 6.
“My gut is that it dates back to when he started feeling something. The MRIs and the area where the complaints were, it didn’t reveal itself,’’ Cashman said. “Now, as of [Monday] in New York with both doctors [Chris Ahmad and David Altchek] for the first physical, testing points to an area on the MRI arthrogram that shows a problem. The prior MRIs had no problem and the point of injury was not around the ligament. Our athletic trainers, our physical therapists and the orthopedists that evaluated both in Tampa and New York did not produce anything that typically gives a concern about a ligament issue in any way, shape or form. [Monday] was the first time the repeated physical testing showed he was getting a response.’’
In a statement released Tuesday night, Severino said, “I am extremely disappointed that I will not be able to put on a Yankees uniform and compete with my teammates this year, but I promise that I will be working tirelessly during this process to come back stronger than ever to make the greatest fans in baseball proud.”
The news that the 26-year-old Severino, who made three regular-season starts and two in the postseason last year due to a right shoulder impingement and a lat problem, will miss the entire upcoming season and likely a big chunk of 2021 is a colossal blow and follows fellow starter James Paxton having back surgery on Feb. 5. Paxton hopes to be back sometime in May. Starting pitchers often require 14-18 months to return from Tommy John surgery.
Of course things can change, but Cashman’s immediate plan is to lean on the Yankees’ pitching depth instead of making a deal for a starter.
Cashman is always on the hunt for players who can improve the Yankees, but four games into spring training isn’t the best time to be searching for a deal.
“This time of year you always look from within,’’ said Cashman, who has Jordan Montgomery, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and possibly Chad Bettis to look at. “Typically, that is how it shakes out, especially until after the June draft, you rely on depth. I wouldn’t say expect any domino effect in terms of us being able to go to the marketplace where a marketplace typically does not exist.’’
Montgomery, who missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, Loaisiga and non-roster invite Bettis have the most big-league experience among the six candidates for those two spots. King’s one-inning outing last season was his only big-league appearance. Garcia and Schmidt, another Tommy John alum, have never worked a big-league game.
The Yankees prefer Luis Cessa out of the bullpen and could use an opener, a role Chad Green filled 15 times a year ago.
Manager Aaron Boone’s immediate reaction was sympathy for Severino, who signed a four-year deal worth $40 million last spring training. Yet, the big leagues don’t stop because of an injury, so Boone also looked ahead.
“We will manage it and try to figure it out,’’ said Boone, who has often talked about the Yankees’ pitching depth and still has Gerrit Cole atop his rotation. “We are good. We got a lot of good pitchers. It’s an opportunity for more and more people to kind of kick the door in and take advantage of an opportunity. We have a lot of talented people capable of that.’’