Ranger Suárez will be late to Phillies camp because of visa hang-ups, a consequence of the lockout
The 26-year-old left-hander is expected to be a big part of the starting rotation. But he may not be ready for the start of the season.
After the lockout comes the fallout, and the Phillies are about to experience it with one of their best pitchers.
Ranger Suárez will be a late arrival to spring training because of a delay in obtaining his work visa, his agent said Friday. The 26-year-old left-hander, who is expected to occupy a spot in the Phillies’ starting rotation, is at risk of missing the first few weeks of the season after a camp that will already be compressed to 25 days once it opens Sunday in Clearwater, Fla.
“Don’t know the exact date,” agent Daniel Szew said of when Suárez may be able to report to spring training. “But he’s hopefully wrapping up the process in the next week or so.”
Issues related to the timeliness of getting a visa to play in the United States are common for major leaguers who don’t have a green card. But the process was exacerbated this year because players were cut off from communicating with their teams during the owners’ 99-day lockout that ended Thursday night.
Teams can often expedite matters by writing letters to consulates, filling out forms, and facilitating appointments to get players to spring training on time. The Phillies, according to Szew, helped Suárez early in the offseason by providing him an I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and an I-94 form that is needed for entry to the U.S.
But players and agents were on their own to continue the process once the owners locked the players out on Dec. 2. And because nobody knew how long the lockout would last or when spring training would begin, it was unclear to players who were applying for visas — and the consulate offices they were dealing with — when they would actually resume working.
“I think the lockout affected when you could apply,” Szew said. “I think the biggest delay in the process was the actual lockout.”
Suárez’s situation is further complicated because the U.S. suspended consular services in his native Venezuela. Since 2019, Venezuelans who are seeking work visas must go to the U.S. embassy in neighboring Colombia, where Suárez has been staying in an airport hotel since last weekend.
According to Szew, Suárez thought he would be in Colombia for about 10 days, until roughly March 16. But Suárez told him this week that he now believes it will take closer to 15 days. Once he has completed the visa process, Suárez intends to travel directly from Bogotá to Clearwater.
“One of the difficult parts is he can’t really train,” Szew said. “It’s not like he has facilities at his disposal. I don’t know how much extra time he’ll need. This whole thing is rushed anyway.”
Suárez is a key component of the Phillies’ pitching staff after breaking through in 2021. He began the season at the Lehigh Valley alternate site after visa issues delayed his spring training. But after getting called up in early May, he swiftly moved from a long-relief role into a back-end bullpen piece, a closer, and finally a starter for manager Joe Girardi.
In 106 innings over 39 appearances (12 starts), Suárez posted a 1.36 ERA. He was the first pitcher since Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in 1968 to post a sub-1.50 ERA while throwing at least 100 innings and making at least 10 starts.
The Phillies went into the offseason believing the rotation, led by Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler, was the strength of the team, especially if Aaron Nola bounces back from a subpar 2021. But Zach Eflin may not be ready for the start of the season after knee surgery last September. If Suárez will miss time, too, the Phillies’ lack of triple-A depth will be tested right off the bat.
Given their other needs — left field, center field, late-inning relief, and bench components — the Phillies didn’t intend to prioritize starting pitching. But their top 40-man roster options at triple A — Hans Crouse, Bailey Falter, and Cristopher Sánchez — have a total of four career major-league starts.
A year ago, the Phillies spent $7 million to sign free agents Matt Moore and Chase Anderson. They combined to post a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts. It seems president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will have to shop again for veteran depth starters and hope to come up with better solutions.
“If you told me, let’s say right now, you had a healthy Wheeler, Nola, Suárez, [Kyle] Gibson, Eflin all year, then I’d say we’re probably going to compete with a little bit of changes in some areas,” Dombrowski said after last season. “That’s a good place to start if you can go out there every five days with someone who gives you a chance to win. Now, you’re going to need more depth. You know you’re going to have injuries.”
But the Phillies probably didn’t predict Suárez’s delayed start, one of what figure to be many unintended consequences of MLB’s locking out the players for the last three months.
The Phillies will play 19 spring training games, including an April 6 finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, according to a revised schedule released by MLB. The Phillies will open the Grapefruit League schedule on March 18 against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. Their first home game in Clearwater will be the following day against the Toronto Blue Jays.