HOUSTON -- José Suarez has certainly been making his case to be part of the Angels' pitching plans in 2021.
Suarez, coming off his first career complete game, turned in another strong outing, this time against the first-place Astros, throwing 5 2/3 solid innings in a 4-2 win on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Angels manager Joe Maddon was hopeful that Suarez’s complete game against the Rangers on Sept. 4 would act as a growth moment for Suarez, and while he didn’t pitch as deep into the game this time, he was still effective, allowing one run on three hits with seven strikeouts.
"He was really good," Maddon said. "He had command of all his pitches and his emotions. His fastball was good, but I liked his curveball. I think that's the pitch that really permitted this outing and the last one. We always saw fastball-changeup and an occasional curve, and now the curveball is more pertinent. So he followed it up against a really good team."
Suarez, 23, improved to 7-7 with a 3.59 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings. He excelled in nine relief appearances early in the season, posting a 1.98 ERA in 27 1/3 innings before moving to the rotation in early July. In 11 starts, he has a 4.39 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.
He’s put himself in good shape to be part of the rotation next year, although he could also be used in relief. It’s been an impressive turnaround for Suarez, who had a 7.11 ERA in 81 innings as a rookie in 2019 and a 38.57 ERA in 2 1/3 innings last year. But Suarez, a former top prospect, looks more poised on the mound this year and is throwing more strikes.
“I feel like I’ve been doing my job,” Suarez said through an interpreter. “That’s the most important thing I can do. I can’t control all that, so the best thing I can do is keep going out there and doing my job.”
He was given an early two-run lead, keyed by an RBI double from Jared Walsh in the first, and was sharp early. He took a no-hitter into the fourth inning -- with the Angels up by four runs after a two-run blast from Luis Rengifo in the third -- before finally surrendering a one-out single to Jose Siri (his first Major League hit) on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Alex Bregman followed with a nine-pitch walk, which further strained Suarez’s pitch count.
Yordan Alvarez followed with a single to load the bases for Yuli Gurriel, but Suarez got Gurriel to ground out to short with Rengifo opting to throw to third base on the play, allowing a run to score. But Suarez then got Carlos Correa to ground out to Rengifo at short to limit the damage.
"He deserves all the success he had tonight,” Alvarez said. “He pitched really well and put the ball where he wanted to. He had a good night."
It was a 30-pitch fourth inning for Suarez, but he bounced back with a quick 13-pitch fifth frame to give himself a chance to go back out for the sixth at 87 pitches. He struck out Siri swinging and Bregman looking for the first two outs but was removed after giving up a double to Alvarez on his 102nd pitch of the game. His 102 pitches topped his career high of 100 pitches set in his complete game against Texas last week.
“He threw a good game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was throwing 3-2 curveballs, backdoor curveballs, he had fastball command. It wasn’t a matter of us struggling. It was a matter of him having a quality start. He threw the ball very well. It was one of the best games we’ve had pitched against us in a while.”
Reliever Mike Mayers came in and got Gurriel to ground out to third to strand Alvarez at second base. He went back out for the seventh and left with two runners on and two out, but Steve Cishek escaped the jam. Suarez’s length allowed the Angels to use their preferred relievers late in the game, including closer Raisel Iglesias, who gave up an RBI double in the ninth but secured his 31st save.
“Getting into the sixth inning, we needed that to really win that game tonight,” Maddon said. “It permitted us to use the bullpen like we wanted to.”