Yankees: Jonathan Loaisiga has earned higher-leverage spots
By Adam Weinrib
Yankees reliever Jonathan Loaisiga is probably about to get a bullpen promotion.
Wednesday’s loss to the Rays — the Yankees’ fifth in six chances in 2020 — rivaled the James Paxton Deflation Game for “most toxic.”
Gerrit Cole was dominant, but left with the outing unfinished. Zack Britton was spotty, but left further damaged, nursing a new injury. Mike Tauchman just … left.
In the 60-game sprint, each regular season contest is both more and less impactful. Yes, every win or loss counts for 2.7 regulation losses in a normal season, proportionally. But eight teams make the postseason, and the Yanks have unfortunately lost Britton for some length of time thanks to his misuse in a contest mainly meant for bravado.
A bullpen with a back end of Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, and a returning Aroldis Chapman is still plenty strong, but for whatever reason, Aaron Boone appears to only trust Ottavino on a batter-to-batter basis. This leaves a visible hole to be filled by one final option, and it seems likely that Jonathan Loaisiga is going to slip into that higher-leverage promotion.
Initially targeted for long relief and spot start roles, Loaisiga seems to be trusting his elite fastball much more often in 2020, and has handed the mop-up roles over to the likes of Michael King and Nick Nelson. Since the season’s early days, he’s been utilized differently.
Still just 25 years old, Loaisiga has been the “final frontier” a bit more often this year, the only arm that Yankee fans feel comfortable seeing on the rubber when the situation calls for someone reliable to protect a blowout win. He’s excelled at being the anti-Jonathan Holder, and now seems pegged for brighter lights.
Loaisiga has come a long way since his debut in summer 2018. At the time, he was thought of as a potential rotation prospect, but certainly a fragile option. It felt like, based on his injury history, every tentative move he made risked further complications.
Watching the outing in 2020, which at the time was considered a bright beginning, now feels strange. The kid’s put so much more muscle on his frame since then that he’s rendered his old self nearly unrecognizable.
More importantly, would 2018 Jonathan Loaisiga even consider a changeup or light breaker in any of these scenarios? He’s relied on his plus-plus heat far more often in short-ish relief stints in ’20, and he finally looks like the future puzzle piece we’ve long envisioned.
Though in an entirely different way than we anticipated when he arrived, Loaisiga finally seems integral to the Yankees’ operation.
It wasn’t a demotion to the bullpen, but a regression and reemergence.
He’s not being punished or ruined, Joba Chamberlain style. He just fits better here, and he’s ready for his close-up.