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Jonathan Loáisiga is close to giving the Yankees’ bullpen a big boost

The right-handed reliever could be activated next week to help the Yankees fight for the postseason.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Even though the Yankees’ bullpen has had a solid season statistically – it has the best ERA by relievers at 3.06 before Friday’s game – the idea is to make the unit as dominant as possible, and that means upgrading from within the organization whenever possible. Fortunately for the Bombers, they are close to activating a pitcher who might give the group another elite arm if he is 100 percent healthy: Jonathan Loáisiga.

Loáisiga pitched 3.1 innings in the first month of the season before going down with elbow problems. On May 1st, it was announced he would undergo surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.

The long road back started then, and after several weeks of rest and rehab work, he was cleared to start a rehab assignment in late July. It began with two clean innings in Single-A, then he took it to Scranton and delivered a scoreless outing on Wednesday and a two-run, one-inning performance on Friday.

According to Connor Foley of The Times Tribune in Scranton, Loáisiga struck out the side on 13 pitches in his first inning of work on Friday, but was sent to the mound for an additional inning and ran into some trouble with the “BABIP gods” not smiling to him. Zach Greene allowed two runners that Loáisiga inherited to score, hence the two runs in his line.

The next step could be, according to manager Aaron Boone, activation from the injured list on Monday barring an unexpected turn of events. The Yankees are about to have a formidable reliever back and that shouldn’t be ignored.

Again, the Yankees bullpen is excellent, but isn’t it better to have Loáisiga available than, say, Albert Abreu or Nick Ramirez? When fully healthy, Loáisiga is capable of being a low-2.00s ERA, which is what we saw in his breakout 2021. That year, he had a 2.17 ERA and a 2.58 FIP in 70.2 frames. The ERA grew to 4.13 last year but his FIP was a much better 3.57 and he was excellent upon returning from an injury-related absence in the second half.

Before embarking on a rehab assignment, he threw 16 pitches to fellow rehabber Aaron Judge and he could only foul off five of them. Then, in the minor league rehab assignment, he showed close to his peak velocity, around 96-97 mph, and he didn’t have any issues with command or control.

In other words, he is ready to pick right where he left off despite what yesterday’s scoreboard might suggest.

Perhaps Loáisiga is not someone who will run a 30 percent strikeout rate, but he can miss bats and, especially, get groundballs by the dozen. That’s what makes him so valuable: he is very hard to square up. Since 2020, only five relievers with a minimum of 130 innings pitched have a higher groundball rate than Loáisiga: Clay Holmes (70.5 percent), Aaron Bummer (68.2 percent), Emmanuel Clase (63.9 percent), Brusdar Graterol (61.8 percent) and Richard Bleier (60.1 percent). Lo is at 59.9 percent since that season in which he broke through with a 3.52 ERA in 23 frames.

The Yankees have generally had a solid infield defense behind Loáisiga, so getting grounders has always worked for him. This time, it might not be so good with Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo on the injured list and Gleyber Torres having regressed a bit at second base, but still, he should offer plenty of reliability.

If the Yankees are going to mount a serious playoffs challenge, they need all their best players healthy and producing. When he is on the field, Loáisiga is and has always been one of the Yanks’ best relievers, and that’s not about to change. He is close to giving this roster an important, underrated boost.