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Jonathan Loaisiga has become unlikely stalwart in Yankees' bullpen

Yankees relief pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga, right, and catcher

Yankees relief pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga, right, and catcher Kyle Higashioka celebrate after they defeated Cleveland in a baseball game, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Cleveland. Credit: AP/Tony Dejak

BALTIMORE – Gio Urshela has as good a view of the mound as anyone, so that makes the third baseman somewhat of an authority on at least some aspects of pitching.

And Urshela said this regarding a pitcher he’s seen plenty of this season, Jonathan Loaisiga:

"Yeah, Lo is nasty," Urshela said with a smile Wednesday afternoon. "From third base I see his pitches. They’re really moving; sinker, change up, slider. That's impressive. I feel good for him."

The 26-year-old Loaisiga, who struck out three over 1 1/3 scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 5-1 victory over Orioles, has become an unlikely stalwart of one of the best bullpens in the game.

The righthander came into Wednesday’s game 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 10 appearances, striking out 16 and walking two over 14 2/3 innings.

"He’s grown up before our eyes," said longtime bullpen coach Mike Harkey.

Loaisiga has grown up to the point where Aaron Boone, with Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green unavailable Saturday night in Cleveland because of recent usage, chose him to fill in as closer. Loaisiga entered the game, which the Yankees led 2-1, with two outs in the eighth inning and recorded his first career save, setting down all four batters he faced.

"It's been fun to see him take this next step," Boone said after Tuesday’s dominant effort vs. Baltimore.

A step taken that had Boone saying he "absolutely" has no hesitation using Loaisiga in any situation.

"The great thing about Lo is obviously he can give you a couple innings (if) you need some big innings in the middle of the game, not hesitant to do that," Boone said. "And there’s nights where, for example, Chappy (Chapman) was down the other night, you come in and get a four-out save and go through the heart of Cleveland's order in the ninth inning. Yeah, I feel great about where he's at and the confidence he's pitching with. He's an important part of our bullpen, there’s no question."

It has been some journey getting there.

Initially signed as a starter by the Giants out of Nicaragua in September 2012, the 5-11, 165-pounder had a promising start to his career in 2013, going 8-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 starts in the Dominican Summer League. But he missed all of 2014 because of injury and was released in May 2015.

The Yankees signed him in February 2016, but his season debut three months later with Class A Charleston lasted all of 2 1/3 innings because of an injury that required Tommy John surgery and cost him most of 2017. Loaisiga started 2018 in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball), was soon elevated to High-A Tampa and after that Double-A Trenton, where the Yankees plucked him from to make his big-league debut June 15, 2018 (he started and earned the win by throwing five scoreless innings against the Rays in a 5-0 victory.

But the pitcher, while staying healthy, never was able to establish much in the way of consistency after that, posting a 4.42 ERA in 36 games (11 starts) from 2018-20 before his apparent breakthrough this season.

"I think it has to do with the way that I've been attacking hitters and getting ahead of them," said Loaisiga, who has been doing that for the most part with a fastball that can reach 100 mph – as it did three times Wednesday – and two rapidly improving pitches, his breaking ball and changeup. "I've been able to do that so far and I've been able to command the zone and command those at-bats. Looking back (at this season’s consistency), that’s it. Just being able to do that, get ahead in the count, command the zone and be aggressive."

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