Ranger Suárez started the season in the minors, reached the Phillies as a long reliever, pitched his way into the later innings, and was the team’s closer before moving to the starting rotation. He’s pitched in nearly every situation this season and his next role could be postseason starter.

The Phillies still have a ways to go to return to October for the first time in a decade, but Suárez’s shutout Saturday in a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh inched them a bit closer. He allowed just four hits, struck out seven, and needed just 97 pitches as he cruised through the Pirates’ lineup.

If the Phillies make the playoffs, they’ll need four starters and Suarez will be one of them. But only three will be guaranteed a game in the first round and Suárez has easily positioned himself as one of the team’s top three pitchers.

“I’ve always thought he was the nastiest guy in our system who I faced coming up,” said Matt Vierling, who was in the minors with Suárez. “I just thought he was disgusting ... He throws hard enough and everything comes out of the same spot so everything looks the same. He’s so smooth with the way he throws that he’ll kind of lull you to sleep and then gets on you.”

Suarez has pitched at least six innings in four straight starts and has a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts since moving to the rotation. Since he moved to the rotation, only two starters -- Max Scherzer and Max Fried -- have a lower ERA.

“I try to be an overachiever,” Suárez said. “I want to exceed expectations, but I have to give a lot of credit to the people in the clubhouse.”

The win pushed the Phillies to a season-high seven games above .500 and moved their run differential positive for the first time since April 12. And it guarantees that the Phillies will control their fate when they open a three-game series on Tuesday in Atlanta. The Phillies can begin that series no worse than 21/2 games out of first place.

“That’s all you can ask for,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You want to control your own destiny and not rely on other people.”

The Phillies placed Archie Bradley on the injured list before the game and knew they would be without Sam Coonrod, who is dealing with a sore thumb. Connor Brogdon is on the injured list, Hector Neris threw 41 pitches on Friday, and Ian Kennedy and Jose Alvarado had pitched in three of the previous four games. Five of the relievers -- Cam Bedrosian, Ramon Rosso, newcomer Kyle Dohy, Adonis Medina and Cristopher Sanchez -- have spent most of the season in the minors.

With a week to go, the relievers are running on fumes with a bullpen game looming on Sunday. They needed a rest and Suárez gave them nine innings off.

“We needed it really, really bad,” Girardi said. “There were a lot of guys who were unavailable today. Ranger gave us exactly what we needed.”

» READ MORE: Phillies lose Archie Bradley (oblique) for rest of regular season but he hopes to pitch in playoffs

Another Harper homer

Fans in right field held letters to spell out “M-V-P” during Bryce Harper’s at-bats and it’s almost starting to feel like they’re celebrating Harper’s MVP award in South Philly rather than campaigning for him to win it. And it’s hard to blame them.

Harper’s homer in the third was his 34th of the season and his franchise-record 46th extra-base hit in the second half. Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, only six other players -- Lou Gehrig, Harlond Clift, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Barry Bonds, and Ryan Howard -- have 45-extra base hits and 60 walks in the second half. Harper needs just four more extra-base hits to join Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, and Todd Helton as the only players since 2000 to have 50 extra-base hits in the second half. He willed the Phillies into playoff contention and could carry them into October.

“I don’t think you can say enough about what he’s done for us,” Girardi said. “Even when they’re pitching around him, he’s on base three times a night. He’s taking his walks, his running the bases, he’s playing great defense. It’s fun to watch superstars play like superstars. A lot of times you say ‘Wow, what a day.’ And nothing he does really surprises me because he’s that talented.”

He leads the majors in OPS and leads the National League in Wins Above Replacement, and is on pace to become the fourth Phillies player to hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage. The Phillies have now won 16 of their last 20 games when Harper has a chance with a runner in scoring position. They are playing .702 ball since July 1 when he has a plate appearance with a runner in scoring position and .367 when he does not.

There’s still a week left in the season, but it’s tough to find a National League player more valuable this season than Harper.

» READ MORE: How the deadline deal that proved to be lifeline for Phillies’ playoff hopes went down

Everyday Vierling

Vierling started in center field and batted leadoff so Odubel Herrera could rest his sore ankle, but the rookie is forcing the Phillies to keep him in the lineup for the season’s final seven games.

He went 2-for-3 and hit his first big-league homer in the third inning. Importantly, Vierling’s first two hits came against a right-hander, showing that he can do more than just beat up on left-handed pitching. The Phillies can play Vierling in left, center, and at first base for the final week and perhaps even at third, where he dabbled at triple A.

“His flexibility really helps us,” Girardi said. “I’ll continue to look at everything, everyday and make the lineup that we feel gives us the best chance to win, but his flexibility is really important for us.”

Vierling was not in the team’s plans to start the season as he began the year at double A after not being invited last summer to the alternate training site when the pandemic canceled the season. But he played his way to triple A and has been a contributor this month. He should end the year as an everyday player.

“Right now, I’m just trying to keep everything in front of me and play the game and not make it anymore than it is,” Vierling said. “I think that’s the best thing I can do right now because it’s pretty cool what we have going on.”