Right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga has emerged as a force in the Yankees’ bullpen so far this season, putting his high-powered arm on display to the tune of a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with 16 strikeouts in 10 relief appearances entering Wednesday. For bullpen coach Mike Harkey, it’s a welcome but unsurprising sign of the 26-year-old’s development.
“It was something that a lot of us mostly had hoped for but also foreseen,” Harkey said Wednesday, “him developing into something that was going to be very, very positive for us. He’s grown up before our eyes.”
In the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Orioles on Tuesday night, Loaisiga tossed his eighth scoreless outing of 2021, while throwing 15 pitches with a velocity of at least 98 mph, his most in a game this year. He struck out three batters in the eighth inning while working around a leadoff walk and a single -- all swinging and on a different pitch in his arsenal.
Loaisigia made Maikel Franco whiff on a 90.1 mph changeup, blew a 98.8 mph sinker past Chance Sisco and got Ryan Mountcastle to chase an 88.6 mph curveball.
“Lo is nasty,” said Gio Urshela, who had a front-row seat to the action. “From third base, I see his pitches -- they’re really moving. Sinker, changeup, slider. That was impressive.”
The numbers put Loaisiga among the best relievers in the Majors so far this season. Per Statcast, he ranks in the 96th percentile or higher in expected ERA, chase rate and hard-hit percentage, as well as opponents’ expected weighted on-base average and expected slugging percentage.
“I just think he's starting to figure out his strengths,” Harkey said. “That’s usually a young pitcher’s hardest thing, to figure out where his stuff fits and where it fits as far as order of importance.”
Though Loaisiga has a history as a starter -- he made three starts as an opener in 2020, when he spent the entire season at the Major League level for the first time in his career -- he has come into his own as a reliever, retiring 43 of the 56 batters he has faced in '21. As far as the Yankees are concerned, he has proven himself to be an invaluable member of their bullpen.
“He thinks of himself as a reliever now,” Harkey said. “I mean, he had his chance to start, and he obviously showed great stuff -- but [also] the inability to be able to hold that stuff for a long period of time. And that usually becomes the difference between whether or not he’s going to be a bullpen guy or a starter.”
Just a day off for Judge
Aaron Judge was not in the starting lineup for Wednesday night’s game at Baltimore, though manager Aaron Boone cautioned that it was only an off-day for the star slugger. He added that Judge would even be available to pinch-hit, if necessary.
“I knew, this being in April and this 13 games in a row, this is a point in the schedule where, for all our guys probably, we’re going to get them at least a day down,” Boone said. “There's some of that, but more so, he's been a little sore the last couple of days, so we’re kind of trying to be out in front of something, especially when we're kind of in a little bit of a grueling stretch.”
Boone had mentioned after Tuesday night’s contest that Judge was dealing with soreness in his lower body, but he did not go into more detail Wednesday. When pressed for specifics, Boone offered up an explanation:
“When there’s multiple minor things that pop up, I don’t think it’s really necessary at times to go into it. There’s times when it absolutely is clearly specific, but there’s other times when it’s a little bit gray and it’s a little bit of wear and tear. So that’s what I leave it at.”
While Boone hopes Judge will be back in the lineup for Thursday’s series finale, he also suggested that with the quick turnaround of a day game, he might hold him out again and wait until the Yankees return to New York on Friday to open a nine-game, 10-day homestand against the Tigers.
This date in Yankees history
April 28, 1989: Rickey Henderson hits the 36th leadoff home run of his career in a 3-1 win vs. the White Sox at Yankee Stadium, snapping a tie with Bobby Bonds and giving Henderson sole possession of the all-time record.