Loaisiga boost in time as overused Yankees bullpen shows signs of wearing out

Aaron Judge and Yankees bullpen pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga, who are on IL, greet each other after their live practice session at Yankee Stadium on July 23, 2023.

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The return of Jonathan Loaisiga appears to be well-timed for the Yankees bullpen, which has been showing signs of wearing out after an excellent first half. The pitcher made his return to the mound and faced Aaron Judge in a simulated inning on Sunday, throwing 16 pitches without allowing Judge to make contact with the ball.

The Yankees‘ most significant advantage during the initial three months of the season has unexpectedly become a flaw in July. While the Yankees’ bullpen has bailed out the team on multiple accounts following offensives failures, there have been signs of fatigue among the relievers.

As of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Royals at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees bullpen had an ERA of 4.95 for the month, ranking as the 11th worst in baseball during this period.

Considering that many arms in the Yankees bullpen may be fatigued, Loaisiga’s return is likely to be a big boost. The experienced player has been sidelined since April 5 due to an initial diagnosis of right elbow inflammation. In May, a bone spur was surgically removed.

Loaisiga boost for Yankees bullpen

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone praised Loaisiga’s live pitching on Sunday, saying he looked great, and expressed encouragement in seeing his command and stuff back to form. Boone mentioned that Loaisiga’s performance resembled his playoff form, which was a positive sign for the Yankees bullpen.

According to Loaisiga, he utilized his entire repertoire, including the four-seamer, sinker, slider, and changeup, and was feeling “really good” during the simulated inning. Loaisiga conveyed through interpreter Marlon Abreu that he felt his arm strength was back and healthy. The Yankees bullpen member expressed his anticipation for returning to action and contributing to the team’s efforts.

Two fans present a Jonathan Loaisiga a sketch of the Yankees bullpen pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

According to Boone, the 28-year-old is set to travel to Tampa for another simulated game on Wednesday, where he is expected to pitch approximately two innings. Following that, he is likely to start a rehab assignment next weekend.

In the previous season, Loaisiga faced some challenges, but he managed to regain his form and returned to being the reliable shutdown reliever that the Yankees bullpen have come to expect from him.

Boone mentioned that they were aware of the capabilities of Loaisiga.

Who is going to lose his berth in the Yankees bullpen

As the pitcher prepares to face live hitters and is slated for a rehab assignment next weekend, the team must now consider which pitcher they will remove from their Yankees bullpen upon his return from the injured list.

Clay Holmes, along with key bullpen contributors Michael King, Wandy Peralta, and Tommy Kahnle, are unlikely to be affected. Ian Hamilton, who recently returned from the injured list and has shown promise as a non-roster invitee this season, seems to have secured his spot in the Yankees bullpen for the foreseeable future.

However, there is a sword hanging on Albert Abreu, Nick Ramirez, and Ron Marinaccio. Despite Abreu’s season ERA being 4.14, he has performed fairly well in recent times. Apart from the six earned runs conceded on July 6, he has only allowed two runs in his last 18 appearances. While he can be inconsistent, the Yankees bullpen would risk losing him since he doesn’t have any minor-league options left.

Yankees bullpen in 2023

Ramirez does possess minor-league options, having been sent back and forth to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre twice this season. Despite his role as a mop-up reliever, he has been effective, registering a 3.15 ERA in his last 20 innings. While five runs have been scored against him in his recent four outings, having another left-handed pitcher can be beneficial for the Yankees bullpen.

The Yankees haven’t reached that decision yet. If Loaisiga was ready to return on Sunday, Ramirez would probably be the one heading back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

On Sunday afternoon, Marinaccio surrendered two additional home runs, eroding a five-run lead in the ninth inning to a three-run margin. Despite securing the final out in the 8-5 victory against the Royals, he couldn’t shake the disappointment. His July performance has been challenging, with a 7.88 ERA and seven earned runs conceded in his last eight innings.

On Sunday, the players who hit home runs against Marinaccio were rookie Freddy Fermin and Kyle Isbel, who has a .204 batting average. It’s worth noting that he also gave up a walk-off home run to Alan Trejo of the Rockies last week in a game that secured the victory for Colorado.

When questioned about Marinaccio’s recent performance, Yankees manager Aaron Boone stood by the young reliever, explaining that his last few appearances have been stronger than the statistics might suggest. Boone attributed the two home runs on Sunday to a problem with command, which has been a recurring issue for the Yankees bullpen member throughout the year.

Boone mentioned that there has been a slight issue with command and mistakes made by Marinaccio. He noted that the last couple of outings were relatively good, particularly the one in Anaheim prior to Sunday’s game. However, Boone emphasized that there’s a fine line between precise command and being slightly off, which can leave a pitcher vulnerable.

Throughout the 2023 season, Marinaccio has maintained a 3.95 ERA in 42 games, showing a decline in performance compared to his rookie year when he posted an impressive 2.05 ERA in 40 games.

It appears that Hamilton has surpassed Marinaccio in terms of reliability within the Yankees bullpen hierarchy. Having a pitcher of Hamilton’s caliber among your last few relievers on the active roster is a valuable asset, and many other teams would covet such a presence. However, the impending roster crunch puts added significance on his upcoming outings to determine his future role.

Assuming everyone else remains healthy and Marinaccio’s struggles persist into August, the Yankees bullpen may have to make a decision regarding his roster spot when Loáisiga returns from his injury. Additionally, with the eventual return of Nestor Cortes, who has started his rehab assignment, another reliever’s position could be at risk. The presence of starters like Clarke Schmidt, Domingo German, and Luis Severino also adds to the potential roster shuffle.

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