TAMPA, Fla. — Here’s the Lo down:
The Yankees are looking for someone to step up in the back end of the bullpen. That pitcher, they think, could be Jonathan Loaisiga.
"He's been a guy that has had varying degrees of success these last few years but that we feel really good about," manager Aaron 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."
The righthander and some of his fellow bullpen candidates have been filling up the stat sheet with zeros in spring training. Loaisiga (8 1/3 innings), righthander Nick Nelson (6 1/3 innings) and non-roster lefthander Lucas Luetge (6 1/3 innings, 13 strikeouts) have not allowed a run in 21 innings.
The Yankees like Nelson, who made his major-league debut in 2020, and are intrigued by Luetge, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.
But the team thinks it knows what it has in Loaisiga — a hard thrower who can give you multiple innings out of the bullpen. In 2021, with no one quite sure how many innings starters can pitch over a 162-game season, multiple-inning relievers are going to become more valuable.
"I think with Lo, there’s the added importance this year coming off of the shortened season with starters that we want to make sure we’re protecting," Boone said. "The length that he can give you in the pen to sync up with guys on a certain day where we don’t have a full pitch count or whatever, that role becomes really important."
Loaisiga last pitched on Tuesday, when he threw 2 1/3 innings against Detroit. The 26-year-old has allowed two hits, walked two and struck out seven. The Yankees were off on Thursday.
"With Lo, I just want to make sure, because his stuff is so good, that he’s always on the attack," Boone said. "I think one thing that’s been really good for him is — and it’s always been a reliable pitch for him — but his changeup. He’s been using it a lot. He uses it to both right and lefthanders. It’s the secondary pitch that he has the most confidence in and really can lean on, and that’s been a really good pitch for him this spring to go along with his fastball."
The Yankees appear set in the back of the bullpen, even with the payroll-reducing trade of Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox and Zack Britton’s elbow surgery. Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day will get the bulk of the late-inning reps, with Loaisiga and the rest looking to move up from a middle-inning role.
"As long as I’m putting in the work and I’m getting the results I want, and as long as God keeps giving me the opportunity to do so, I can see how I can be part of the group of guys that you mentioned," Loaisiga said through an interpreter. "Those guys have a lot of experience in the big leagues and they’ve had a lot of success. The way I see it is if I keep doing my job and I keep getting good results, I can be part of that group.
"I’ve always been pretty open in telling them that I’m here to pitch and help in any way possible. 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."