From August 26 to the end of the season, Ranger Suárez posted a 0.60 ERA. His contributions down the stretch run were invaluable to a Phillies pitching staff burdened with injuries.
Except, this didn't occur in 2021...it was 2019.
Suárez’s torrid finish to 2019 had him primed for an explosive start to 2020, but that start never came. Suarez was sent to the COVID-19 injured list on July 1 and quarantined in a hotel room for four weeks.
He rejoined the Phillies a month later, but appeared in only three games during 2020, allowing multiple runs in each. Suárez was a far cry from the player the Phillies believed had a shot to make the rotation out of spring camp a few months prior.
Visa issues delayed Suárez’s start to the 2021 season. He arrived late to spring training then nursed a quad injury which kept him from joining the Phillies even longer. Suárez’s luck had been unfortunate.
He made his first appearance with the Phillies in 2021 on their taxi squad on April 25. Suárez allowed one run, but walked three over three innings. In Allentown, he would build up to his season debut with the major league club on May 9.
In May, Suárez allowed not a single earned run. He found success pairing a sinker with a devastating changeup out of the bullpen.
As May turned to June, the Phillies asked Suárez to fill a new role as follower for top prospect Spencer Howard. Howard struggled mightily in his first full season, never pitching more than four innings a start.
In games when Suárez followed Howard, the Venezuelan lefty allowed just one run in nine innings. Howard in those starts allowed three runs in 9.1 IP.
So effective was Suarez from the bullpen that when Héctor Neris began to struggle, manager Joe Girardi promoted Suárez to Phillies closer on July 2. There, he continued his run of dominance.
In July, Suárez saved four games, allowing just two earned runs the entire month. Pinpoint accuracy enabled him to force groundball outs without the need for overpowering velocity. The inside sinker kept even righties off balance while the changeup held hard contact to minimum.
Suárez's demeanor on the mound was nothing short of impressive; at just 25-years-old, he was unfazed by pressure. Closer seemed to be the perfect fit for the unimposing sinkerballer. The Phillies, however, had other plans.
At the trade deadline, Dave Dombrowski traded Spencer Howard for a package from the Texas Rangers that included Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy, with the intention of using Kennedy to fill the closer role.
After being jerked around from taxi squad to bullpen, from bullpen to follower, from follower to setup man, and setup man to closer, Suárez would be moved again, from closer to starter.
However, Suarez would first need to build up a starter’s workload. It had been over 1,000 days since his last major league start in 2018.
Girardi kept Suárez to fewer than 90 pitches in each of his first four starts, yet the young lefty still thrived. He posted an ERA of 2.45 over 14.2 IP.
On August 24, the pitch count was lifted and the kid gloves were off. Suárez was ready.
That night he held the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays to just one run over 6.2 IP. Including that start, Suárez averaged almost six innings per game to the tune of a 1.80 ERA in the six appearances following the removal of Girardi’s pitch limit.
On September 25, Suárez painted his masterpiece. In front of nearly 30,000 fans at Citizens Bank Park, Suárez blanked the Pirates over nine innings. It took only 97 pitches and kept the Phillies within a game and a half of the first place Atlanta Braves.
Though Suárez had been the Phillies most effective pitcher down the stretch, Girardi elected not to shuffle the Phillies rotation going into the penultimate series in Atlanta. Instead he opted to save Suárez for the final series of the year against Miami.
In Miami, Suárez spun another gem, but it was too little, too late. The Phillies were already eliminated. Of the last eight games the Phillies played in 2021, the only two wins were Suárez starts.
Though he was unable to save the Phillies' season on his own, the future is bright for Suárez. He established himself as a premier starter in the National League and will undoubtedly receive some down ballot Cy Young award votes.
During 2021, Suárez made 12 starts for a 1.36 ERA in 106 IP. Those numbers put him in elite company. For pitchers with 100+ IP and 12+ starts, only Bob Gibson in 1968 had a lower ERA.
While Phillies player development has been bleak the last decade, fans should rest easy knowing Suárez has solidified himself as a quality starting option for the 2022 season.
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