Luis Severino took another step closer to his return to pinstripes on Thursday, facing live hitters for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Although Yankees manager Aaron Boone wasn't in attendance at the Yankees' player development complex, he said Severino's live batting practice was a success.

"I heard it went really well," Boone said Thursday afternoon. 

Boone added that Severino touched 96 mph in his session. That's equivalent to his average fastball velocity back in 2019, one tick behind the average speed of his heater in 2018, his last full big-league season

Severino underwent right elbow surgery last February, subsequently missing the entirety of the 2020 season. That's coming off an injury-plagued campaign in '19, a season in which Severino made just three starts in the regular season.

Since resuming his throwing program this spring, Severino worked his way up to his return to the mound, starting with just fastballs before mixing in all of his off-speed pitches. He was initially scheduled to face hitters on Wednesday, but the outing was pushed back a day when Severino woke up with back tightness that morning. 

The 27-year-old is expected to rejoin New York's rotation this summer. He still has a long way to go before then, though. He'll continue facing hitters at the complex in Tampa a few more times before an eventual rehab assignment.

So far in 2021, the Yankees' starting rotation has been one of this club's biggest strengths. Gerrit Cole is pitching like an ace while some of the question marks in the staff—like Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Domingo Germán—are flashing signs of reliability and effectiveness.

At his best, Severino was atop New York's rotation before Cole arrived. He won 19 games in 2018, finishing third in the race for the American League Cy Young Award the year prior. 

The rich would be getting richer if Severino can recapture his form later this season. Before a 9-1 loss to the Rays on Thursday night, Yankees starters boasted the second-lowest ERA (3.33) in the American League, allowing three-or-fewer earned runs in 21 of their previous 22 starts.

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