After the Phillies took the lead in the sixth inning Saturday night and held it in the seventh and eighth, Joe Girardi had to make a decision. With each of his late-inning relievers available in a bullpen that blew eight saves in the previous nine games, which would he choose to get the last three outs -- against the heart of the San Diego Padres’ order, no less?
Héctor Neris, the deposed closer with the most experience finishing off games? Nope. Been there.
José Alvarado, the recently named closer with the 100-mph fastball and little clue where it’s going? Nah. Done that.
At this point, the Phillies might as well pick names from a hat. Or throw darts. Or roll dice.
Girardi chose Ranger Suárez, a 25-year-old without a save in his brief career. And wouldn’t you know it, the lefty retired Fernando Tatís Jr., Jake Cronenworth, and Manny Machado to nail down a 4-2 victory in a game that was delayed by two hours at the start and interrupted for 45 minutes in the fourth inning by heavy rain.
“That’s what Ranger does, man,” starter Zach Eflin said after the Phillies won back-to-back games for the first time since a four-game spurt on June 9-13. “He comes into the game and he doesn’t give a crap who’s hitting against him or what team he’s facing. He just goes after guys.”
For the second game in a row, with Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius having returned from the injured list, the Phillies had their full lineup together. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has told people he has been waiting for the roster to be reunited before deciding what moves (if any) to make before the trade deadline.
Despite their maddeningly self-destructive tendencies over 80 games, the Phillies are within sight of the division-leading New York Mets in the National League East. Adding or subtracting before July 30 will be largely determined by the next few weeks.
“We feel like we’re at full strength and we’re just going out, regardless of who we’re playing, ready to play some hard-nosed baseball,” Eflin said. “It’s nice to have everybody back in the lineup. I’ve been saying it’s a long season, but it’s time to start winning some baseball games and we’re playing some pretty good baseball.”
Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins hit solo homers in the second inning to tie the game against Padres star Yu Darvish. The Phillies went ahead against Darvish in the sixth on J.T. Realmuto’s triple off the wall in right field, Harper’s sacrifice fly, a two-out single by Andrew McCutchen, and Hoskins’ RBI double.
But getting ahead hasn’t been a problem for the Phillies lately. It all comes apart in the eighth and ninth inning with a bullpen that’s far too charitable in giving away leads.
Girardi has tried everyone. He replaced Neris with Alvarado, who promptly blew a save last weekend against the Mets. He used Archie Bradley, who also coughed one up in New York. Even Suárez -- who has a 0.85 ERA, 29 strikeouts and eight walks in 31 2/3 innings since getting called up in May -- gave away a lead last weekend and was dinged for a blown save Friday night on Jurickson Profar’s two-out, two-run double.
Why, then, would Girardi go back to Suárez again?
“He’s been great all year for us,” Girardi said. “The one thing that Ranger has is exceptional command, right? He has good stuff that just makes it plus-plus because he hits spots with different fastballs, his changeup, and his slider.”
The Phillies also like Suárez’s demeanor. He appears to be unafraid of staring down, say, an MVP candidate like Tatís with the game on the line. Girardi likes to say Suárez has a slow heartbeat.
“It’s not really that I have a slow-rate heartbeat,” Suárez said through a team interpreter. “It’s that I honestly trust in myself. I have plenty of confidence in all my pitches.”
Suárez got ahead of Tatís with sinkers, then got him to fly out with a changeup. He threw three consecutive sinkers to lefty-hitting Cronenworth, freezing him with the last one. And after throwing two strikes to
Machado, he got him to foul out on a changeup.
“We have all the faith that Ranger’s going to get the job done and get the inning over as quick as possible,” Harper said. “If that’s him being a long guy, if that’s him being a starter, if that’s him being a closer, any given spot he’s done a great job for us. You saw it again against the heart of their lineup.”
Figuring out what to do in the ninth inning has been a nightly guessing game for Girardi. Most of the time, the manager has guessed wrong. Suárez is valuable to the Phillies as a multi-inning reliever. But after seeing what he did against the Padres, would Girardi consider Suárez in a closer role?
“Of course,” Girardi said. “I’ve considered everything, right? And Ranger sometimes is hard because you like him in all the different roles that he can do. But we will continue to discuss this. I like what I saw.”