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The Yankees desperately need ace to compete with Red Sox

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What I’m Hearing: Bob Nightengale is hearing that the Yankees are now “scrambling” to find a way to fill the hole now left by injured ace Luis Severino.
USA TODAY

TAMPA — Luis Severino kept trying to convince everyone Wednesday morning that he’s not worried, and he should be back in two weeks as the New York Yankees ace, but his face told a different story.

He felt a sudden pain in his shoulder on Tuesday, may need a cortisone shot, and will be shut down for two weeks.

And then, who knows?

“It’s better that it happened now,’’ Severino said, “than in midseason or at the end of the season.

“I should be fine.’’

Maybe.

It’s rather alarming when he throws his first slider preparing for his first spring-training start Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves, winces in pain, and is rushed to an MRI machine to be examined. It was diagnosed as rotator-cuff inflammation.

“I felt something pull or something,’’ said Severino, who only has been on the Injured list once in his career. “I couldn’t throw another pitch. I knew something was wrong, so I stopped.’’

Never, Severino said, has he ever experienced a similar pain, and even 24 hours later, still feels it in his shoulder.

“I feel a little pain there, trying to lift my arm,’’ he said. “But my strength (is) the same. That’s why I feel it’s nothing bad.

“I’ll be back.’’

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Certainly, he won’t be ready by opening day. He still needs to build arm strength. He likely won’t be able to pitch in a game until late April, and that’s if everything goes right.

“The bad thing about baseball,’’ he said, “is when you don’t get to play baseball. I want to be there for the first game, so it’s going to be tough for a little bit.

“God has a plan for everybody.’’

The Yankees desperately need Severino if they’re going to topple the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. He’s their ace, and why the Yankees locked him up to a four-year, $40 million contract.

If it’s more serious than inflammation, the Yankees will start scrambling.

Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned. Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon and James Shields are out there, too. Maybe the San Francisco Giants could be persuaded to deal Madison Bumgarner now instead of waiting until this summer. The Arizona Diamondbacks will listen to offers for ace Zack Greinke, and perhaps Robbie Ray. The Cleveland Indians dangled co-aces Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer during the winter, so maybe those talks could be re-visited.

It’s certainly too early to panic, or even jump head-first into trade talks, but the Yankees need to be prepared.

Right now, the only certainties in their opening-day rotation are Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton. Veteran CC Sabathia won’t be ready to start the season either, recovering from offseason knee surgery and having a stent placed in his heart. He also must serve a five-game suspension for intentionally hitting a batter against the Tampa Bay Rays in September.

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The Yankees are going to have to mix and match with top prospect Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German and Luis Cessa. And they’ll have to turn the game over to their vaunted bullpen early, and probably perhaps quite often with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino.

“We’ll be covered,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, “we feel like we’re in good shape there.’’

The fear, of course, is that Severino’s inflammation signifies something much more serious. This is a pitcher who yielded a 1.98 ERA in his first 18 starts last season, allowing a meager .195 batting average. He wasn’t close to resembling the same pitcher in the final 11 starts, going 4-5 with a 6.23 ERA, yielding a .323 batting average with 13 homers, and lasting 55 1/3 innings.

Just maybe, something was wrong then.

And just maybe, this is why Severino signed such a team-friendly contract.

“Hopefully two weeks is something that will do the trick,’’ Boone said, “and he can start ramping back up. We will re-evaluate at the two-week point to see if all of that inflammation is out of there.’’

If not?

The Yankees will immediately instruct all operators to be on stand-by, because they’ll be making lots of phone calls to teams and free agents near you.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

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