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Jonathan Loáisiga can have a huge impact on the Yankees’ bullpen

The Yankees’ reliever is on his way back from shoulder inflammation and is nearing a return.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Yankees’ reliever Jonathan Loáisiga hasn’t pitched a major league game since May 22. That day, he went down with some right shoulder inflammation, putting a cloud on his already murky 2022 status. He had been very bad for weeks – his 7.02 ERA in 16.2 innings is hard to ignore – which indicates he may or may not have pitched hurt.

But better days could be ahead for the talented sinkerballer. After throwing a scoreless inning for Single-A Tampa over the weekend, the Yankees decided to move his rehab assignment to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, a sign that he is progressing nicely and should be back in a matter of days.

In fact, he had his first outing in Scranton last night; with an inning pitched, three hits, one earned run, no walks, and a couple of strikeouts in 23 pitches (19 strikes.) According to Conor Foley, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders beat writer for The Times-Tribune, his fastball topped at 98 mph, he threw a lot of changeups, and while he pounded the zone, he missed his spots a couple of times. That is to be expected after such a long layoff.

With Lo’s return imminent, we can’t help but wonder what kind of impact he can make on the bullpen if he is truly over his shoulder injury and regains his some of his 2021 form. If that’s the case, he can push an already elite unit to “god-tier” status.

Even with some injury issues, pitchers (like Loáisiga and Aroldis Chapman) underperforming, and the tight schedule, the Yankees have the second-ranked bullpen in baseball, and the first in the American League by fWAR, at 4.5. The group is second in ERA with a 2.74 mark, behind the Houston Astros’ 2.63, and its 3.09 FIP leads MLB.

That’s without Loáisiga, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and other important names for chunks of the season. Getting Loásiga’s best version back would give the Yankees three top-tier arms, alongside Michael King and Clay Holmes. Those pitchers, together with the strong lefty duo of Lucas Luetge and Wandy Peralta, and the improving Albert Abreu will give the Yanks enviable depth and quality.

Let’s remember Loáisiga’s 2021 campaign. He was one of MLB’s breakout relievers, with a 2.17 ERA in 70.2 frames. Not only did he strike out a rock-solid 24.4 percent of the hitters he faced, but he also limited walks to career-best 5.7 percent clip, and induced an incredible 60.9 percent groundball rate.

It was an indelible blend of command, strikeout prowess, control, and ability to coerce batters into hitting the ball in the ground. It was scintillating relief work to watch, and unsurprisingly, he became the Yankees’ most reliable reliever.

Things fell apart this season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t return to the pitcher he was last year, or at least close to that version. It’s very possible we can chalk up at least some of his early-season struggles, and his strong velocity during his rehab assignments hints at newfound health.

Loáisiga still has a long way to go before reaching his 2021 status. He likely still needs to refine his command and control down in Triple-A, perhaps for a few outings. He will then need to test those traits against big-league hitters.

The Yankees do have time on their side. They have a healthy lead and can afford to let him progress slowly and make sure that, when it’s playoffs time, he is at or close to his best version. A playoff bullpen that has added a dominant Loáisiga should be the target for Aaron Boone and his staff. A Loáisiga-King-Holmes triumvirate, backed by the Yankees’ remarkable bullpen depth, would be a tremendous weapon for Boone to yield come October.