PHILADELPHIA -- Ranger Suárez keeps saving the Phillies.
They had a major bullpen problem before he pitched on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. They just placed Archie Bradley on the 10-day injured list, effectively ending his season. Héctor Neris threw 41 pitches on Friday, the most he had thrown in a game since 2015, making him unavailable. Ian Kennedy threw a combined 82 pitches over the previous four days, making him unavailable. Sam Coonrod had a “thumb issue,” making him unavailable. The rest of the Phillies’ bullpen consisted of José Alvarado and mostly inexperienced arms, and the Phillies needed those arms to pitch Sunday in a bullpen game.
Suárez had to pitch deep. He tossed a 97-pitch gem in a 3-0 victory over the Pirates.
The Phillies (81-74) are 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves (82-72) in the National League East with seven games to play.
“I didn’t really think about having a season like this one, obviously,” Suárez said through the team’s interpreter. “But I try to be an overachiever.”
How is this for overachieving? Suárez has a 1.45 ERA in 99 innings this season. Only seven pitchers in the past 100 years, including the Negro Leagues, have pitched 99 or more innings in a season and posted better than a 1.45 ERA. Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA in 1968), Slim Jones (1.24 ERA in 1934) and Red Munger (1.34 ERA in 1944) are the only pitchers to start at least one game.
“I obviously want to exceed expectations,” Suárez said. “But I have to give a lot of credit to people in the clubhouse, like J.T. [Realmuto] behind the plate, Neris, Alvarado, Bradley, [Kyle] Gibson. These are pitchers that have helped me a lot to develop my pitches, to become a better pitcher. Everyone in the clubhouse has done a tremendous job with me.”
Suárez started the season in Triple-A, then got promoted in May to be the Phillies' long man. He became the closer in early July following the struggles of Neris and Alvarado. Suárez pitched well in the role, but the Phillies needed help in the rotation, so they made him a starter in August.
Suárez is 2-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts.
He threw a seven-pitch first inning against the Pirates and continued from there. He threw strikes. He worked quickly.
“Changeup,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Changeup was really good.”
“It's a little funky, there's a little deception there for sure,” Pirates catcher Taylor Davis said. “I thought he did a really good job of, for the most part, when the fastball was in, it was in, and when it was away, it was away. There wasn't a ton of miss over the plate. And obviously, the nice part for him was he got to get out of innings quickly. He got to get through the game in under 100 [pitches].”
Suárez threw the Phillies’ first nine-inning complete game with fewer than 100 pitches since Zach Eflin (92 pitches) on July 5, 2016, against the Braves. It was the Phillies’ first nine-inning shutout with fewer than 100 pitches since Kyle Kendrick (94 pitches) on May 26, 2012, against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
“I’ve always thought that he was probably the nastiest guy in our system that I’ve faced,” Phillies center fielder Matt Vierling said. “I always thought he was disgusting. He throws hard enough, and everything just comes out the same spot and everything looks the same. And he’s just so smooth with the way he throws that he kind of lulls you to sleep a little bit, then it gets on you.”
Vierling hit the first home run of his big league career in the third inning, ripping a solo shot to center field to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Bryce Harper followed two batters later with a solo home run off the batter’s eye to make it 2-0.
It was Harper’s 34th homer of the season as he strengthens his case to win the NL MVP Award.
“It’s fun to watch superstars play like superstars,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
It is not crazy to think that Suárez could get a NL Cy Young vote from somebody. Or maybe even a down-ballot MVP vote.
He has meant that much to the Phillies. His next start is Friday against the Marlins in Miami.