Yankees bullpen suffers a gaping hole after Loaisiga’s season-ending injury

The Yankees lose reliever Jonathan Loaisiga to a season-ending injury on April 6, 2024.

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The script wasn’t what the Yankees envisioned for their bullpen in Friday’s home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. With starting pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga sidelined on the 60-day injured list due to a forearm strain, manager Aaron Boone turned to his bullpen in the seventh inning with the game tied at 0-0.

Marcus Stroman had delivered a stellar performance, shutting out the Blue Jays for six innings while racking up six strikeouts. However, the Yankees’ offense sputtered against Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi, failing to provide any run support.

Left-hander Caleb Ferguson entered the game in the top of the seventh, understanding the pressure. This was a golden opportunity for the relievers, a chance to showcase their talents and validate Aaron Boone’s belief in the bullpen’s depth, especially with Loáisiga unavailable.

Unfortunately, on just his second pitch in a Yankees uniform, Ferguson surrendered a game-changing solo home run to Blue Jays pinch-hitter Ernie Clement. This single swing shifted the momentum completely, erasing Stroman’s valiant effort and handing Toronto the lead. The Blue Jays went on to secure a 3-0 victory, leaving the Yankees with a bitter taste in their mouths after a promising start.

A major blow for the Yankees

Caleb Ferguson‘s worst fears were confirmed as his fastball, instead of painting the corner, sailed right into the inviting zone at belt-high. Even as he pleaded for a new ball from the umpire, Ernie Clement’s game-changing blast was already soaring into the seats. This single swing off Ferguson’s second pitch in a Yankees uniform proved costly, wiping away Marcus Stroman’s shutout effort and handing Toronto the lead.

Unfortunately, the bullpen woes continued. Both Dennis Santana and Nick Burdi, who impressed in spring training as non-roster invitees, couldn’t replicate their earlier success.

Santana, brought up from Triple-A to fill Loáisiga’s shoes, had a rough outing. He threw nearly 40 pitches across 1 2/3 innings, surrendering two hits in a tiring effort. Burdi followed suit, struggling with his command. Three wild pitches and two walks in a messy ninth inning allowed Toronto to tack on two more runs, both charged to Santana.

The absence of Loaisiga, sidelined by a significant forearm strain and headed to the 60-day injured list, will be a major blow to the Yankees’ pitching plans. He was expected to play a crucial role this season, serving as a bridge between starters and closer Clay Holmes. With Loáisiga out until at least summer, if not longer, those plans are now in disarray. This recurring injury is a source of frustration for the team.

Speaking after the loss, closer Clay Holmes expressed his disappointment about Loáisiga’s injury. He acknowledged Loáisiga’s talent and the vital role he plays in the bullpen. While expressing sympathy for his teammate and optimism for his eventual recovery, Holmes lamented how Loáisiga’s absence disrupts the team’s bullpen strategy. The Yankees will now need to find solutions to bridge the gap left by Loáisiga’s absence.

Yankees bullpen depth in despair after Loaisiga injury

The Yankees have a reputation for developing and maximizing the potential of lesser-known relievers. But the current situation in the bullpen pushes those boundaries.

Loaisiga’s injury adds him to a growing list of Yankees relievers on the injured list. He joins Tommy Kahnle, Scott Effross, Lou Trivino, and McKinley Moore, bringing the total to five from the team’s 40-man roster.

The remaining healthy relievers include Holmes, Hamilton, Burdi, Santana, Ferguson, Gonzalez, and Weaver. Aside from Weaver, who re-signed in the offseason, all these arms were either acquired via trade or invited to spring training in recent years.

Despite the challenges, closer Clay Holmes remains optimistic about the team’s depth. He acknowledges that injuries are a reality in baseball, and he trusts the next man up to step into the role. Holmes believes in the talent within the team and their ability to close out games. He emphasizes the importance of a collective belief and maintaining momentum to succeed.

Holmes isn’t alone in his confidence. While the loss of Loáisiga is a blow, the Yankees remain confident in their pitching talent. Holmes himself is a force to be reckoned with in the late innings, known for his ground-ball-inducing pitches. Hamilton, who impressed last season, is also poised for a larger role with Loáisiga out. His early-season dominance has served as a positive sign.

However, as Aaron Judge points out, Loáisiga’s impact can’t be easily replicated. Replacing him will require a collective effort from the entire bullpen to avoid a repeat of last season’s burnout, despite finishing with the league’s best bullpen ERA (3.34). Judge recognizes Loaisiga’s contribution, particularly in setting up for Holmes and other relievers.

The challenge remains, but Judge shares Holmes’ confidence in the Yankees bullpen’s depth. He points to Hamilton’s consistency and the potential of new acquisitions to fill Loáisiga’s shoes seamlessly.

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