Jonathan Loaisiga didn’t do with regularity what the Yankees and opposing team scouts said he typically does: Fill up the strike zone.
But in his major-league debut Friday night after a call-up from Double-A Trenton, he did something even better in the bottom-line business of his vocation.
Loaisiga, 23, filled the scoreboard with zeros, pitching the first five innings and picking up the win in the Yankees’ 5-0 victory over the Rays in front of 45,112 at the Stadium.
“It’s a dream come true,” Loaisiga said through his translator of pitching in the majors. “When I was out in the bullpen, I wasn’t nervous at all. Larry [Rothschild] and Gary [Sanchez] just told me, just worry about executing one pitch at a time. See the target, hit the target.”
The righthander, who opened the season with high Class A Tampa and became the first Yankees starter to make his major-league debut without having pitched at the Triple-A level since Chase Wright in 2007, struggled with his command. Only 57 of his 91 pitches were strikes.
But he offset that with swing-and-miss stuff, including what one scout called a “sharp, biting curveball” that had the Rays mostly flummoxed. Loaisiga allowed three hits and four walks, striking out six.
“Everyone got a peek at the stuff,” Aaron Boone said. “And I thought he competed really well. A few walks that didn’t allow him to get deep into the night, which I think as we go forward will be a little uncharacteristic, but I thought for the first time out, he gave us everything we needed tonight.”
Didi Gregorius’ 14th homer and Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly accounted for the scoring through six innings against former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi (1-2). Sanchez’s three-run double off Johnny Venters with two outs in the eighth made it 5-0 and snapped a 0-for-17 skid.
“It felt great,” Sanchez said through his translator. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to contribute on the offensive side.”
Jonathan Holder, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren each pitched an inning after Loaisiga, who far and away was the story of the night.
The Yankees signed him before the 2016 season. Loaisiga, whose nickname has long been “Lasagna,” traveled a rough road to the big leagues, as injury limited him to one start in the minors in 2014-16.
But he took the mound Friday — in place of the injured Masahiro Tanaka — full of confidence, and his relaxed demeanor immediately impressed his teammates. “He was calm out there,” Sanchez said. “It didn’t feel like it was his first start. Impressive, but he has the talent. He showed what he has.”
Loaisiga, who struck out 58 and walked four in 10 starts in the minors, threw a swing-and-miss 97-mph fastball to Matt Duffy to begin the game. Duffy then took four straight balls for a walk. But Loaisiga, whom Cashman called “unflappable,” struck out Jake Bauers swinging at a curveball and got Wilson Ramos to ground into a double play.
Loaisiga struck out Joey Wendle to start the second and issued his second walk of the night, to Willy Adames. But he struck out Mallex Smith with an off-speed pitch, then got Christian Arroyo swinging at a 95-mph fastball. It was that way his entire five innings, most significantly in the fourth, when he struck out Arroyo swinging with the bases loaded.
“It’s something I’ve developed over the years, being able to stay calm in tough situations,” Loaisiga said. “I think it’s key in baseball. You want to stay calm and you want to do your job.”