'Strong possibility' Suárez won't be ready for Opening Day
Lefty Strahm could be next man up to fill role in beleaguered bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Phillies left-hander Ranger Suárez’s latest setback has the Phillies looking for a fifth starter before Opening Day.
Left-hander Matt Strahm might be the guy.
The Phillies canceled Suárez’s bullpen session Wednesday morning at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater because of left elbow inflammation. Suárez has not pitched since March 8, when he felt tenderness in his forearm while pitching for Venezuela in a World Baseball Classic exhibition. He recently resumed throwing, and he seemed to be on track to pitch the first week of the season. Now, Philadelphia is considering other options.
“I can’t say no, but I’d say there’s a strong possibility that he won’t be ready [by Opening Day],” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said following a 6-2 loss to the Rays in a Grapefruit League game on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. “But it’s not out of the question. We just shut him down for a couple days. We’re not really concerned about it, but we want to knock that out and get him back on the mound soon.”
Thomson said an MRI exam revealed no structural damage in Suárez’s elbow. He said he hopes Suárez will begin throwing again in a few days.
The Phillies’ starting-pitching depth is being tested early with injuries to Suárez, right-hander Andrew Painter (sprained proximal UCL in right elbow), left-hander Cristopher Sánchez (left triceps tightness) and right-hander Nick Nelson (strained left hamstring).
It is why the Phillies are considering Strahm. They signed him to two-year, $15 million contract in the offseason to be a high-leverage reliever. But Strahm has made 25 starts in his big league career, and he still throws five pitches (four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, sinker and changeup) that should serve him well in a multi-innings role. Philadelphia has been building up Strahm, planning to get him to three innings before the club breaks camp next week.
Hypothetically, Strahm could give the Phillies three innings in a game, and they could then use the rest of their relievers to pick up the slack.
That group includes right-handers Connor Brogdon, Andrew Bellatti and others.
“A length, bulk guy we call him,” Thomson said about Strahm. “Whether he starts the game or comes in later, who knows?”
If Suárez opens the season on the 15-day injured list, the Phillies will have two jobs available in the bullpen. Right-hander Yunior Marte is a favorite for one of them. He not only has pitched well this spring, but he can pitch multiple innings.
Luis Ortiz, Erich Uelmen and Andrew Vasquez are relievers on the 40-man roster still in camp. Non-roster relievers still in camp are McKinley Moore and Jake Jewell. Left-hander Michael Plassmeyer is the only other healthy starter in camp. Plassmeyer is a potential fit, Thomson said.
But the Strahm plan might be the best plan for now.
“I mean, I think we got it covered,” Thomson said. “I really do. We still have guys like [Minor League starter James] McArthur on the roster. And we can stretch some other guys out that are here. Ortiz is a one-plus [inning] guy. We're probably going to get him to two at some point. So we've got some options. But not a true starter, I would say.”
Taijuan Walker allowed eight hits, six runs and two walks, while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings on Wednesday. It was his first start for the Phillies since he pitched for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Walker had not pitched since March 14 for Mexico.
“Everything felt good, I just ran out of gas,” Walker said.
Walker’s four-seam fastball averaged 92.0 mph, down from 93.7 mph last season. No worries, Walker said.
“Eight days [since he last pitched], traveling, going from Arizona to Florida,” he said. “Everything will be good. I’m not worried about my velo.”
He is healthy. That’s the best news. The Phillies need it.
“I’m trying to take the ball every fifth day and go six, seven innings in and try to go as deep as possible every outing,” Walker said. “Really just staying healthy and taking the ball.”