DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Yankees are continuing to dream upon Jonathan Loaisiga’s potential, believing that the hard-throwing right-hander can serve as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen this season.
Loaisiga has enjoyed a strong spring thus far, spinning 8 1/3 scoreless innings across four appearances. He worked 2 1/3 hitless frames in relief of Gerrit Cole during Tuesday’s 7-4 victory over the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., striking out two with a pair of walks.
“I’ve always been pretty open in telling them that I’m here to pitch and help in any way possible,” Loaisiga said through an interpreter. “That could be multiple innings, that could be middle relief, it could be starting. To me, it’s just being available and putting myself in a position where I can help, regardless of what that may be.”
With left-hander Zack Britton expected to miss about three months following surgery to remove a bone chip and loose bodies from his pitching elbow, manager Aaron Boone sees innings six through eight as a “fluid situation” to begin the year. Right-handers Chad Green and Darren O’Day, plus left-hander Justin Wilson, will factor heavily into that mix.
So could Loaisiga, who pitched to a 3.52 ERA in 12 appearances last year and owns a 4.42 career ERA over 36 big league appearances since 2018, all with the Yankees. Boone said that Loaisiga’s role will gain importance because the team will look to protect its starting pitchers coming off last year’s shortened campaign.
“He's been a guy that has had varying degrees of success these last few years, but that we feel really good about,” Boone said. “With the length that he can give you in the pen, that role becomes really important. He’s a dynamic pitcher with great stuff and the ability to fill up the strike zone.”
Boone said that he continues to encourage Loaisiga to be aggressive in the strike zone, cutting down on free passes, and he believes that Loaisiga’s changeup has developed into a reliable pitch. Loaisiga is also continuing to huddle with bullpen coach Mike Harkey to tinker with a slider.
“I’ve felt really good in camp,” Loaisiga said. “This year I feel that physically that I’m at 100%. My arm feels really good.”
Derek and the dominoes
Derek Dietrich has been a solid contributor over his eight-year career in the big leagues, which Boone said could factor into the club’s decision-making more than his exhibition performance. Dietrich entered play on Wednesday with one hit in 15 at-bats (.067) through seven spring games.
“It’s more about what are they looking like, whether there's a result or not,” Boone said. “In Deet’s case, he very much looks like the hitter he's been throughout most of his career. I feel like physically he's been in a really good spot. We've gotten him in a lot of positions. I would say it’s more about physically where [he is] and track record.”
Dietrich is pushing infielder/outfielder Tyler Wade for a bench role. The Yanks project to carry four reserves to start the year, with catcher Kyle Higashioka and outfielder Brett Gardner seemingly assured of spots. Infielder/outfielder Jay Bruce, first baseman Mike Ford and outfielder Mike Tauchman are among those also in contention.
Rob Brantly’s power has opened eyes in Yankees camp, with the 31-year-old catcher slugging two homers in his first seven at-bats. Brantly credited the work that he performed at the club’s alternate site in Moosic, Pa., after being acquired by New York last August.
“For me, catching would be the most important thing -- working with my pitchers and making sure that I'm helping put them in the best position to succeed,” Brantly said. “Offensively, I'm confident in my bat. I've always been able to swing the bat pretty well throughout my Major and Minor League career.”
With Robinson Chirinos sidelined for four to six weeks following right wrist surgery, Brantly projects to be the next depth option behind catchers Gary Sánchez and Higashioka.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Robinson,” Brantly said. “When you see yourself in the lineup, that’s kind of what we all prepare for. When the opportunity comes, be ready for it and show you can help the team win games.”
• Infielder/outfielder Miguel Andújar (sore right wrist) is “doing better,” according to Boone. Andújar fielded ground balls on Tuesday but has not resumed batting practice.
• Higashioka (sore side) worked out in the gym and received treatment on Tuesday, Boone said. Higashioka is expected to resume baseball activities on Wednesday and is scheduled to resume play on Saturday against the Orioles.
• Right-hander Corey Kluber is scheduled to face hitters at George M. Steinbrenner Field during Thursday’s off-day, keeping him on a five-day schedule. Kluber is expected to start the season’s second game on April 3.
Following an off-day on Thursday, the Yankees will return to Grapefruit League action on Friday evening, hosting the Phillies for a 6:35 p.m. ET contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The starting pitchers for both teams are TBD.