WASHINGTON — The plan called for Ranger Suárez to pitch three innings Monday night in his first major-league start in 1,037 days, and nothing — not even 33 easy, breezy pitches — could compel Joe Girardi to deviate from it. Not this soon. Not with the Phillies counting on Suárez as a starter for the next two months.
And so, as usual, winning a game proved more difficult than it should have been.
The Phillies used six pitchers, including two former closers in the first five innings in the Benjamin Button of pitching scripts. They blew two late leads. They scored five runs in their last at-bat, then sweated out a 7-5 victory over the remains of the Washington Nationals after a trade-deadline fire sale here last week.
Trailing 3-2 in the top of the ninth, the Phillies tied it on Jean Segura’s double, went ahead on a two-run single by J.T. Realmuto, padded the lead on Alec Bohm’s RBI single, and tacked on one more run on a double play. New closer Ian Kennedy gave up a two-run homer but ultimately finished it out, nudging the Phillies back to .500 (53-53) and 2½ games behind the New York Mets, who lost in Miami.
“It’s go time,” said first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who didn’t start because of a groin injury. “We’re right in this thing. We haven’t played the best baseball since the break, but here we are. The feeling in that clubhouse is that it’s there for the taking. If we play and we can stay healthy, we feel like we’re the best team in this division and there’s no reason we can’t win this division if we can get guys to stay on the field.”
The Phillies’ hope still stems from their starting pitching. And the decision to move Suárez from the bullpen the rotation was made to provide more stability and depth. Never mind that Suárez hadn’t started since Sept. 30, 2018. The Phillies believe he has the repertoire to succeed in that role.
Nothing seems to faze Suárez, and he looked the part of a reliable starter. He threw more four-seam fastballs than he typically does out of the bullpen and had a touch more velocity, sitting at 95 mph. He faced the minimum nine batters, allowed one walk, and quickly erased it with a double play.
“Everything went well,” Suárez said through a team interpreter. “Everything went as expected. I just go out there trying to get guys out. I don’t think too much about anything else, really.”
The Phillies intend to keep stretching out Suárez. Girardi said he’s likely to throw at least 60 pitches in his next start, scheduled for Saturday night at home against the Mets.
Whatever the plan, Suárez seems to roll with it.
“Ultimately this is what I wanted,” he said. “I see myself as a starter.”
Big outs from Bradley
Girardi prefers not to use relievers more than two days in a row. But he broke his rule with Archie Bradley, who made his third appearance in as many days and recorded a big double play in the seventh inning.
With the bases loaded, one out, and the Phillies leading 2-1, Bradley replaced lefty Jose Alvarado and gave up a seeing-eye two-run single to pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman. But he got Victor Robles to ground into a double play, keeping the deficit to 3-2 and enabling the Phillies’ offense to come back.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t have the start to the season that I wanted to,” Bradley said. “For who the Phillies expected me to be when they signed me, I don’t think I really performed that way until the last month or so. But I’m here on a one-year deal. I’m here to help this team win. That’s why they brought me in.
“I’m not a prospect here that they’re trying to protect. I’m a proven major-league arm. I’m gone three [days] in a row, I’ve gone four out of five, and I’m ready to take on that burden and that role of pitching as much as I can.”
Leading 1-0 on Odúbel Herrera’s fifth-inning home run, the Phillies had a chance to break open the game in the sixth. They sent Hoskins to the plate as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and two out. But Hoskins, who hadn’t played in three days because of a groin injury, struck out.
The Nationals tied the game in their sixth on a pinch-hit home run by Andrew Stevenson. And after the Phillies scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the seventh, the Nationals’ bench came up big again with Zimmerman.
Production off the bench has been lacking all season for the Phillies. Entering the game, their pinch-hitters ranked 23rd in the majors with a .582 OPS. They were one of seven teams with only one pinch-hit homer.
Bohm gets defensive
Bohm rates among the worst defensive players in the majors by most metrics. But he turned in a pair of stellar plays at third base before moving across the field to first in a double switch in the seventh inning.
Bohm charged and barehanded a slow roller and made a strong throw to retire Adrián Sanchez in the sixth inning. In the seventh, he kept a foot on the bag, stretched like a first baseman, and made a backhanded scoop of catcher Realmuto’s off-balance throw to cut down Yadiel Hernández on a fielder’s choice.