Losing a series to the White Sox and splitting a series against the Tigers is, in layman’s terms, “not what you want.” Following that up with dropping the first game against the Athletics, who are chasing the Yankees in the Wild Card race, made things worse. Ever since I suggested the Yankees had a chance to steal back the division, they decided to prove me wrong. I broke the Yankees and I am sorry.
Fortunately, there was at least one bright spot from Monday in my road to redemption. It marked the return of Jonathan Loaisiga aka Johnny Lasagna. Loaisiga made waves when the Yankees called him up from Double-A in June and slid him directly into the rotation. He made four starts before he was sent down and eventually shut down with shoulder inflammation.
In his four starts, Loaisiga showed great stuff, but the control wasn’t quite there. He struck out more than a batter per inning but also increased his walk rates and wasn’t able to go far into games. The “stuff” would definitely get major leaguers out, but the question of what his role would be presented itself. Could Jonathan Loaisiga make it as a major league starter?
He’s still working on developing his third pitch and showed difficulties pitching deep into games. There’s still hope for him though. As Jake Devin discussed last week, Loaisiga has the repertoire to be a force for the Yankees in the bullpen down the stretch.
Per Statcast, Loaisiga sat at 95.8 mph on his fastball during his stint with the Yankees. His breaking ball, which can shift in shape from a sharp slider to a more heavy curveball, posted an excellent whiff rate above 44%. Loaisiga would have the potential to be dominant if he pared down in the bullpen to those two pitches. His changeup, a vital part of his starting repertoire, lags behind his other offerings, and could be curtailed in a relief role.
The lack of a third pitch isn’t anything new and has doomed most failed starters. If Loaisiga can’t get his third pitch up to par, at least he’s got the rest of his offerings to fall back on. Having two plus-pitches would definitely play better out of the bullpen, whereas simply having those wouldn’t allow him to succeed as a starter. That doesn’t mean that the Yankees should give up on the idea of Loaisiga as a starter, though.
There was a time when fans questioned whether Luis Severino was destined for the bullpen as well. Despite struggling for about a month, Severino’s success last year and early this year cemented his role as starting pitcher. He’s also been better of late. The Yankees stuck with him and gave him a chance to be a starter and they should do the same for Loaisiga.
While his focus for the rest of 2018 will be as a reliever, he should come into spring next year focused on still being a starter. He needs to work on developing that changeup and see if it can be his elusive, reliable third pitch. If it doesn’t develop the way he wants it to, converting Loaisiga to a bullpen role could be the key to his future success.
He has two very good pitches, and we’ve already seen how dominant they can be. Now the Yankees will get their chance to see how his stuff will play up down the stretch. If Monday’s performance was any indication, the signs are positive. His “dominant” outing impressed not just Yankees fans but skipper Aaron Boone as well:
“That’s ... “ he said, just before shaking his head and then finding the words. “That was pretty impressive.”
Boone went on to say continued success could earn him a more significant role for the team. While Boone was referring to this year, a dominant showing over the next month-plus, could show the organization what value he could provide in the future.
The blueprint is already laid out for Loaisiga thanks to Dellin Betances and Chad Green. Betances broke out in 2014 and Green last year, but both of them had their opportunities as starters and are now key members of the Yankees’ bullpen. Even if it’s just for this year, in an encouraging bit of news Loaisiga’s already picking Betances’ brain on how to succeed in this new role.
Again, the Yankees will (and should) try to make him a starter. He’s more valuable there. But if he can’t make it as a starter, Loaisiga could follow the path paved for him by Betances and Green. He could be the Yankees’ next ace reliever.