BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jonathan Loaisiga’s spring performance has fueled debates within the Yankees’ clubhouse regarding the right-hander’s future. Some believe that he would be effective if challenged to serve as the fifth starter, while others point to an arsenal that has the makings of a dominant multi-inning reliever.
Loaisiga flashed evidence that could support both arguments Saturday, working two innings of two-run ball in the Yankees’ 7-4 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates at LECOM Park.
“Like I’ve always said, I’m going to be there for the team,” Loaisiga said through an interpreter. “It doesn’t matter what it is -- it doesn’t matter if it’s one out, one inning or multiples. For me, wherever the team needs me, I’m going to be right there.”
Having pitched five scoreless, hitless innings coming into Saturday’s start, recording nine strikeouts and no walks, Loaisiga was one strike away from completing his second inning of work before challenging John Ryan Murphy with a fastball. The former Yankees catcher slugged it over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that Loaisiga likely would have preferred to opt for a breaking ball in that Murphy at-bat, but came away with another largely positive impression as the club evaluates Loaisiga’s place among the 13 pitchers they expect to carry north for Opening Day.
“It’s something we’ve talked about a lot, and we’ll continue to talk about,” Boone said. “I have some pretty strong thoughts right now. We’re still a few weeks away from unfolding, and we’re trying to get him in a really good place because I am really confident he’s going to have a big impact on our club.”
Boone said that he has been pleased with Loaisiga’s athleticism and stuff, noting that he seems to self-correct his delivery well when it gets out of sync in game situations.
“I’m just going to keep working on commanding my pitches,” said Loaisiga, who walked none and struck out two in Saturday’s effort. “It’s something I’ve been working on extensively, limiting bases on balls and having better command. I’ll take this and move forward.”
Dean of the scene
The NBA’s Brooklyn Nets dismissed coach Kenny Atkinson on Saturday, making Boone now the longest-tenured manager or head coach in New York sports. Boone was hired by the Yankees on Dec. 4, 2017.
“Hopefully that continues,” Boone said, with a laugh. “I just take it one day at a time. We’re hired to be fired, right?”
Giancarlo Stanton (right calf strain) resumed throwing and hitting tee-and-toss Saturday, in addition to continuing to run on an anti-gravity treadmill. Stanton remains unlikely to be ready for the March 26 season opener at Baltimore, but the Yankees are hopeful that he will be playing regularly in April.
Ben Heller (sore back) threw a side session on Friday at Steinbrenner Field and the right-hander is nearing his first game appearance of the spring, according to Boone. Chad Bettis (sore back) has resumed his throwing program, but the Yankees are not sure when he will be ready to pitch in games.
The Yankees optioned right-hander Nick Nelson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and right-hander Miguel Yajure to Double-A Trenton on Saturday, trimming the number of players in camp to 57 (31 pitchers, five catchers, 10 infielders and 11 outfielders).
The Yankees will have a pair of split-squad games Sunday, hosting the Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field and visiting the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., both at 1:05 p.m. ET. Masahiro Tanaka will start the home game, which can be streamed on Gameday Audio, opposite Atlanta’s Sean Newcomb. Clarke Schmidt is slated to face Baltimore’s Kohl Stewart in the road game, which can be streamed on MLB.TV.