NEW YORK -- The Yankees were dealt a major blow early Sunday morning, announcing that dependable reliever Jonathan Loaisiga went on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder strain. Manager Aaron Boone said via Zoom ahead of the series finale against the Orioles that Loáisiga is specifically dealing with a strained rotator cuff in his throwing arm.
The 26-year-old has been shut down from throwing for 10 days, and the Yankees recalled Albert Abreu from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take his place in the bullpen in the interim.
“Obviously that’s a tough loss for us,” Boone said, “which is hopefully only a couple of weeks. But still, [it’s] something we’ll have to navigate.”
Loáisiga last pitched in Friday’s series opener, allowing a game-tying solo home run to Jorge Mateo in the seventh inning of the Yankees’ eventual 4-3 win in 11 innings. It was the first time Loáisiga had given up a run in a relief appearance since Aug. 9.
Boone said that Loáisiga felt “pretty good” in that outing, but when he returned to Yankee Stadium on Saturday morning, he was dealing with enough soreness that the Yanks had him undergo an MRI around game time. That’s when they discovered the strain, and head physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad gave Loáisiga a cortisone shot.
With the end of the regular season within reach, it is unclear if Loáisiga will be able to return to help the Yankees down the stretch. Boone said he is “hopeful” about that possibility, but it depends on how the next week or so goes.
That’s a big setback for the Yankees’ bullpen, which has been among the best in the Majors this season. New York entered Sunday with the fourth-most relief wins (38), the fifth-best ERA (3.47), the third-lowest WHIP (1.18) and the fifth-best opponents’ batting average (.222) in MLB.
Loáisiga has played a key role in that success, compiling a 9-4 record with a 2.25 ERA and five saves in 54 appearances. His 21 scoreless relief outings of four or more outs this season are the second most in the Majors, behind only the Red Sox’s Garrett Whitlock (23). And his nine wins are tied with the Mariners’ Paul Sewald and the Mets’ Jeurys Familia for the second most in MLB by a reliever, trailing only the Brewers’ Brent Suter (12).
In the midst of his fourth season with the Yankees, Loáisiga’s resurgence has also meant that he was growing accustomed to a higher workload than usual. Prior to this season, the most innings he had pitched was 31 2/3, in 2019. He has thrown 68 innings so far in ’21, striking out 66 batters against just 15 walks.
“It’s always a concern of ours how we use guys,” Boone said. “[We] try our best to be mindful of not overloading them. It’s been a challenge obviously this year with the amount of close games we’ve played. But hopefully this is something that is a little bit of a timeout, and you get him back for the stretch drive.”
The series against Baltimore began a period in which the Yankees will play 20 games in 20 days, before a trio of potentially decisive matchups against the American League East rival Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays to finish the regular season. Though the loss of Loáisiga makes that tough stretch even more pronounced, New York has proven its resiliency before, and Boone is counting on that again.
“We’ve been in this mode of urgency for quite some time now,” he said. “We understand the importance of every game. And I feel like we’ve had that mindset -- our guys have brought that to the field each and every day. And that obviously has to continue.
“[We’re] excited that we’re in the midst of a stretch drive of playing a lot of really important games and have a great opportunity in front of us.”