Before COVID-19 halted the season for three months, it would have been easy for Ranger Suarez to imagine spending his summer pitching every fifth day as a member of the Phillies starting rotation.
He had a strong spring training in Clearwater, Fla. and made a fast impression on manager Joe Girardi. Suarez, in March, was certainly a rotation contender.
But instead of spending July on a big-league mound, Suarez spent the month locked in a Clearwater hotel room after being infected by the coronavirus. His symptoms – just dizziness, Suarez said – passed in a few days. But he continued to test positive, which prevented him from being cleared to leave his room.
He ordered food for delivery, talked to his family on FaceTime, and played video games.
“I tried to stay busy, so I wouldn’t go crazy,” Suarez said Tuesday, a day after finally joining the Phillies. “The frustrating part was that I felt pretty good, but I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t allowed to leave my room. I wasn’t allowed to work out. I wasn’t allowed to do anything.”
Suarez was one of seven players to test positive after a June coronavirus outbreak at the team’s Florida complex. But Suarez was the last to be cleared.
After testing negative, Suarez reported to Allentown to build arm strength after spending a month in his hotel room. Suarez completed a series of simulated games at the team’s alternate training site, but his highest pitch count was just 40 pitches.
For now, Suarez’s role will likely be limited to short stints in relief.
“It was very unfortunate what happened to me, but I’m just focused right now on helping the team anyway I can,” Suarez said. “If I have to be a reliever, I’ll be a reliever. If I have to be a starting pitcher, I’ll be a starting pitcher. Whatever they need me for, that’s why I’m here.”
The Phillies have revamped their bullpen in recent weeks as Suarez is one of seven relievers who have been added since Aug. 11. The unit, which still has the highest ERA in baseball, has improved, and Suarez could be another boost.
The 25-year-old left-hander had a 3.14 ERA last year in 37 appearances and quietly put together a strong season. The Phillies could use that dependability again as Monday began a stretch of 30 games in 27 days. Suarez is not in the rotation, but it beats sitting in a hotel room.
“It was definitely frustrating, but it wasn’t as frustrating as you might imagine because it was something that I could not control,” Suarez said. “I was more worried than I was frustrated because I didn’t know what to expect from this illness. At the end, I just thought ‘Well, there’s nothing that I can do so I’m just going to follow the advice that I was told.’”