Yankees manager Aaron Boone speaks after Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. Pete Caldera, Staff Writer, @pcaldera
NEW YORK – Three days before last Thanksgiving, Jonathan Loaisiga’s name appeared without fanfare under “Yankees transactions,’’ when the club assigned him to the 40-man roster.
Loaisiga had just turned 23, and he’d made just 25 professional appearances – just 12 with the Yankees organization.
But given the right-hander’s strike-throwing ability, there was a fear among the Yankees’ decision-makers that Loaisiga – who had yet to advance beyond Class A – could be snapped up by some club in the December Rule 5 Draft and stick at the big-league level.
And after watching him in the Instructional League, “my vote was, yeah, he’s someone who needs to go on our 40,’’ said Tim Naehring, the Yankees’ VP of Baseball Operations.
On Friday night, Loaisiga will be going against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, making his big-league debut start with a whopping 25 innings worth of experience above Class A.
“(I was) really just concentrating on doing my job with my (Trenton) team in Double A. It was a big surprise when they told me,’’ Loaisiga (pronounced loh-EYE-see-gah) said via an interpreter on Thursday.
Stepping into the rotation for Masahiro Tanaka – lost for a month due to two strained hamstrings – it’s been a remarkable ascension for the right-hander who’ll become just the 11th pitcher born in Nicaragua to reach the majors.
Released by the San Francisco Giants organization in May of 2015, Loaisiga made one minor league start for the Yankees’ organization in 2016 – at Class A Charleston – and exited with an elbow injury.
After rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Loaisiga made four starts for Class A Staten Island in 2017 and was promoted to Trenton this spring, after just four starts at Class A Tampa.
“I don’t know his entire story, but I know what I got to see from him in spring training and just being around him,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of having Loaisiga in big-league camp this year.
“There’s just an easy way about him, I think he’s really talented. I think he’s going to be a really good pitcher in this league,’’ Boone said. “Swagger’s not the right word, but there’s just a presence about him…a confidence that he’s kind of unaffected by anything going on around him.
“And I’m excited to see him pitch here.’’
Loaisiga’s easy delivery and his astounding strikeout-to-walk ratio – 58 Ks vs. only four walks in 58 minor league innings this year – made him the choice over anyone at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
And that includes more talked-about prospects Chance Adams and lefty Justus Sheffield, who might yet impact the roster this season, and veteran right-hander David Hale – a 30-year-old with MLB experience.
“It’s been a tough road for me to get here,’’ said Loaisiga, who also missed the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons due to injury. “And now, it’s about enjoying this moment and enjoying the opportunity…and focus on winning.’’
“All the credit goes to the kid,’’ Naehring said of Loaisiga moving past his arm issues, going a combined 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts at Tampa and Trenton this year.
Loaisiga will be the fourth Nicaraguan to appear in an MLB game this season, joining Kansas City’s Cheslor Cuthbert, Seattle’s Erasmo Ramirez and the Angels’ J.C. Ramirez.
Of course, Dennis Martinez, a 245-game winner and author of a perfect game, remains a baseball idol in Nicaragua and Loaisiga met him once.
“A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with him,’’ Loaisiga said. “He gave me some tips about how to attack hitters, but since then I haven’t spoken to him.
“I don’t know if he knows that (Friday) is my debut.’’
But for a kid growing up in Nicaragua, “To us, he’s a baseball ambassador,’’ Loaisiga said of Martinez. “You look up to him.
“When you sign, your dream is to get to the big leagues and for us it’s following in his footsteps and hopefully having a career like his.
“(I’m) super excited,’’ Loaisiga said of his debut. “This is a great opportunity the Yankees are giving me. I’m thankful for that.’’