Bryce Harper stopped Ranger Suárez on Thursday afternoon in the hallway that leads from the trainer’s room to the Phillies clubhouse.
Two weeks ago, Suárez was the team’s closer. But Thursday’s 2-1 crucial win over the Dodgers was his third start since being shuffled into the starting rotation. He has pitched in nearly every role this season —long reliever, middle reliever, set-up man, closer, and now starter — and handled each one with poise.
Thursday was no different as Suárez pitched into the fifth inning and allowed just three hits. The left-hander has provided the first-place Phillies with needed stability in the back of the rotation. And once again, Harper was impressed.
“I told him that it’s incredible to watch him pitch,” Harper said. “In every single role that he’s been in for us the last two years, three years. He’s done an incredible job.”
Suárez helped keep the Phillies atop the National League East and avoid being swept by the defending World Champions. He struck out four, walked two, and allowed one run that scored after he was lifted. Suárez held his own against the National League’s premier lineup.
“The emotion he shows on the mound, the no heartbeat I would say. The situation is never too big for him,” Harper said. “He goes out there, gets the balls, throws strikes, and doesn’t walk anybody. That’s the thing about pitching, you’re going out there and doing your job. I love the way he goes out there. I love his demeanor.”
There was a bit of a risk last month when the Phillies made their closer a starter, but the early returns are promising as Suárez has a 0.90 ERA since moving to the rotation. And Harper thinks the pitcher will be much more than just three good starts.
“When we get into the postseason, he’s going to be a big, big player for us because of the way he knows how to pitch and his demeanor on the mound,” Harper said. “He could be one of the reasons why we win it.”
The Phillies treaded lightly with Suárez after moving him from the bullpen so Thursday’s 82 pitches was a big step. Manager Joe Girardi said the Phillies will likely allow the pitcher to throw 90 pitches in his next start before removing his restrictions for the final stretch of the season.
“Every start that I have makes me feel better,” Suárez said. “My pitches are better. The way I feel on the mound is better. I think I’m almost ready to not have a pitch limit anymore.”
The Phillies were desperate for production from the back of their rotation after Spencer Howard, Matt Moore, Vince Velasquez, and Chase Anderson struggled to keep the team in games. Girardi was not asking for much more from his fourth and fifth starters than to give the offense a chance to win. Suárez has delivered much more than that.
“Obviously you guys only see what he does out there on the field, which is impressive itself, but the way he’s handled it inside,” Archie Bradley said. “Going from not making the team to then being the long guy to then being a late-inning guy to then being our closer to now being one of the best starters in the National League and I’m not afraid to say that right now. And I know he hasn’t gone deep into games, but you look at the stuff and just how easy it looks. When you guys watch me pitch you can tell I’m working very hard to get guys out. When you watch Ranger pitch it doesn’t look like he’s working very hard. And so hats off to Ranger. He’s been truly a savior for this team and the roles he’s filled and he’s going to continue to do that for us.”
Suárez spent the majority of his career as a reliever before he moved last month to the starting rotation. That was the role he said he always wanted. He found success in the bullpen this season by inducing weak contact with his sinker, but it remained to be seen how that would fare as a starter when he had to navigate lineups two or three times a game. Thursday was the first time this season he went through a lineup twice and Suárez’s stuff seemed to play just fine.
“I thought all his stuff was really good and he used all his stuff from the beginning today,” Girardi said. “This is a tough lineup to get through. They grind out at-bats. Foul balls. I mean, he pitched really, really well against a tough lineup.”
Harper is already envisioning Suárez pitching in October, but the Phillies still have seven weeks to get through before the regular season is finished. The top three teams — the Phillies, Mets, and Braves — entered Thursday separated by just one game. It’s going to be a dogfight, Harper said. And it would be hard to see the Phillies putting up much of a fight if they didn’t address their rotation woes. The former closer is allowing the Phillies to dream of the playoffs.
“That’s Ranger. He just kind of rolls with the punches,” Girardi said. “Nothing seems to bother him. It’s just who he is. It’s his personality and it’s a great personality to have because it allows us to use him in so many different ways. He’s relaxed. He has fun. And he does his job.”