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Yankees 5, Rays 0: Jonathan Loaisiga and Gary Sanchez steal the show

The rookie right-hander showed excellent poise and the bats heated up over time in a 5-0 victory.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Jonathan Loaisiga pitched five scoreless innings in his big-league debut and Gary Sanchez notched three RBI in a satisfying 5-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

The big story entering the game was the pitching matchup, as there was intrigue on both sides. Loaisiga was making a rather surprising spot start for the Yankees in his first-ever appearance above Double-A Trenton. For the Rays, former-Yankee Nathan Eovaldi was making his return to the Bronx in just his fourth start after 2016 Tommy John Surgery.

Both arms held up their end of the pitcher’s duel. Four of Loaisiga’s first six outs were via the strikeout, and his plus stuff was as advertised. Most of his fastballs sat in the 95-97 mph range, while his curveball and changeup were sharp and got some whiffs (we posted a more analytical breakdown of Loaisiga here). Despite walking four batters over five innings, he only allowed three hits and struck out six. All in all, it was a great debut start for Johnny Lasagna.

His counterpart, Eovaldi, looked pretty good early too. His velocity was back up and his breaking pitches looked sharp. He hung an 81-mph curveball in the bottom of the third inning to Didi Gregorius though, who hammered it into the second deck in right field for a 1-0 Yankees lead.

Loaisiga ran into some trouble the next inning, when he gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases. Facing Christian Arroyo, the prize of the Evan Longoria trade, Loaisiga got ahead and finished him with a looping curveball in the dirt to leave the bases loaded and maintain the narrow 1-0 lead.

Other than the Gregorius dinger, the Yankee offense was mostly punchless for the first half of the game. Eovaldi continued to mow down his old team through five, but the offense got back on the board in the sixth inning. Aaron Judge seared a rocket of a double down the right field line to lead off the inning, and Gregorius followed with a well-placed infield single. Giancarlo Stanton followed suit with a deep sac fly to dead center, scoring Judge. Gregorius would ultimately be stranded, but the Yankees led 2-0 after six.

The Yankees added more insurance in the eighth inning. Judge and Gregorius singled and Stanton was intentionally walked, ending Eovaldi’s day after 7.1 innings. After lefty specialist Jonny Venters struck out Greg Bird, it was up to the struggling Sanchez to break the game open. And break the game open he did. The Kraken ripped a double past a diving Ryan Field and all the way to the right field wall, clearing the bases and making it a 5-0 Yankee lead. It was a much-needed hit for Sanchez, who will look to keep it going and break out of his slump.

The Yankees bullpen continued its recent stretch of dominance to close out the game and preserve the win for Loaisiga. Jonathan Holder, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren handled one inning each with ease, locking down the Yankees’ 45th win and improving their June record to 10-3.

Loaisiga pitched well enough to earn another start, which would likely come at home vs. the Seattle Mariners next week. Though the offense didn’t light up the scoreboard for much of the game, it came through in the clutch and secured the win.

The Yankees will take on these same Rays on Saturday for game three of this four-game series. They will send Luis Severino to the mound, while the Rays will “open” with Ryne Stanek, who has gone no more than two innings in any of his “starts” this year. Ryan Yarbrough or Matt Andriese will likely follow in a more conventional long-relief role. Game time will be 1:05 PM.