MIAMI — Ranger Suárez made it through five scoreless innings Saturday night, even driving in a run. Then, all of a sudden, the Phillies lefty was gone, lifted before the bottom of the sixth despite throwing only 71 pitches.
Absent an explanation in the moment, it was an eyebrow-raiser.
It proved costly, too.
Four outs from squaring a three-game series, the Phillies fell, 3-2, to the thorny Marlins when Lewis Brinson banged a go-ahead two-run homer off the right-field foul pole against Archie Bradley. It was another punch to the gut by a familiar nemesis in a ballpark that has been a haunted house.
Later, after the Phillies lost in Miami for the fourth time in six games this season and the 13th time in 19 games dating to 2019, manager Joe Girardi explained that Suárez is dealing with a tired arm, similar to what some pitchers go through late in spring training. Suárez was more specific, describing it as “a little tightness in my triceps.” He said he’s unconcerned about making his next start.
“We talked about it during the game, when the time was right [to come out],” Suárez said through a team translator. “[Girardi] decided to take me out just to protect me.”
As well as Suárez pitched — two hits, two walks, seven strikeouts — Girardi and pitching coach Caleb Cotham spotted a few ominous signs. Suárez’s velocity was down across the board. His signature sinker, for instance, averaged 91.4 mph, down from 92.3 mph last Sunday. His four-seamer dipped to 92.6 mph from 93.5 two starts ago and 94.9 one start before that.
There’s also the matter of Suárez’s history. He didn’t pitch in the majors last season because of COVID-19 and arrived late to spring training due to visa issues. He has worked 72 innings this season in every imaginable role, including closing games midway through the year.
When the Phillies put Suárez in the rotation last month, it marked the first time he started in the majors since 2018. And although they built him up gradually, they also did it quickly. He went from 33 and 61 pitches in his first two starts to 82, 86, 99, and 95 in his last four.
“For sure it’s something I take into account that I hadn’t started a game in two years,” Suárez said. “I think that has something to do with it.”
It wasn’t worth it, then, to Girardi to risk a more serious injury to Suárez just to squeak another inning or two out of him, even in an important late-season game.
“He was a little nicked up after his last start, so we were just careful,” Girardi said. “I watched him go out and throw in the fifth inning after warmup and I wasn’t crazy about what I saw. We just said we’re going to cut it off there. You’ve got understand, his workload has increased dramatically.”
Suárez is scheduled to pitch Thursday at home in the opener of a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies. The Phillies need him. With lefty Matt Moore struggling, Girardi said the No. 5 starter spot will most likely turn into bullpen games for the rest of the season, beginning Sunday against the Marlins.
“I don’t worry about my next start,” Suárez said. “I think I’m going to get better and I’m going to be able to go ahead and have my next start.”
Bradley blows it
Girardi said Suárez’s early exit was “not why we didn’t win this game.” Indeed, it had more to do with a center-cut fastball from Bradley to Brinson.
Bradley, the third reliever used by Girardi, was actually in trouble from the jump in the eighth inning. He gave up a gap double to Bryan De La Cruz before Miguel Rojas’ smash deflected off diving second baseman Jean Segura’s glove and into right field for an RBI single to cut the margin to 2-1.
After striking out the next two batters, Bradley threw a 94-mph heater that he said was meant to be down and away. Instead, it came back over the plate, and Brinson muscled it out to right field for his first homer since Aug. 11.
“I made three bad fastball pitches to them,” Bradley said. “That’s a game we should win. To blow that game, it stings. It hurts.”
Bradley hadn’t allowed a run in either of his last two appearances after giving up six runs on nine hits in his previous five games. It was only the second homer he allowed since July 17.
Bradley is in his first season with the Phillies, but he has heard all about the team’s struggles in Miami.
“Those guys play us really well,” Bradley said. “It’s something we definitely talk about. We know the history, we know the late-inning losses, and it’s something that, in a positive way, we’re like, ‘Hey, let’s beat these guys,’ because we should. We haven’t, and we have to [Sunday].”
Andrew McCutchen broke a scoreless stalemate in the fourth by homering to left-center against tough Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers. McCutchen went 7-for-54 after missing 10 days with a knee injury, but appears to have regained his swing. He’s 6-for-15 with two doubles, two homers, and eight RBIs in the last four games.
J.T. catches on
J.T. Realmuto, who since 2016 has been behind the plate for more innings than only St. Louis’ Yadier Molina, started at catcher for the first time since Aug. 27 because of a sore right shoulder. Rookie catcher Rafael Marchan likely will make his seventh start in eight games Sunday.