Ranger rounding into form as Phils ponder postseason rotation

Sánchez, Lorenzen to piggyback Tuesday, with righty likely to eventually land in bullpen

September 17th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Rob Thomson said Saturday he is finished talking about potential postseason rosters, rotations and lineups, partly because he is superstitious and partly because he wants his players focusing on how “we’ve got to get in.”

That is fine, but it will not stop anybody else from wondering how things might look once the Phillies make the postseason. They took another step with Saturday night’s 6-1 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, increasing their lead over the Cubs to 3 1/2 games for the No. 1 NL Wild Card spot with 14 games to play.

  • Games remaining: at STL (1), at ATL (3), vs. NYM (4), vs. PIT (3), at NYM (3)
  • Standings update: The Phillies (81-67) hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Cubs (78-71) for the top NL Wild Card spot. The Phils own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago.

Some things in the postseason are locks, like Kyle Schwarber hitting leadoff. He hit a three-run home run in the fifth, snapping an 0-for-16 skid and sending John Kruk to the Gateway Arch, either Sunday or in the future. Kruk said on the Phillies’ TV broadcast that he had never visited the Arch and had absolutely no plans to ever visit, but he would go if Schwarber homered in that at-bat.

“I’m excited to get a picture from him,” Schwarber said.

Some things are not locks, like the rotation. A lot can change with two-plus weeks to play, but left-hander  is looking more formidable as a starter. He allowed one run in six innings on Saturday. He lost his command in the third, but he worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

“We needed it,” Thomson said. “We haven’t been getting much length lately, so hopefully this is the first of a string of them. Sometimes that happens. He’s really pitched well the last couple times out."

Suárez has a 3.31 ERA in three starts since he returned from the injured list (strained right hamstring). He has a 2.86 ERA in his last six.

“I feel healthy, which is the most important thing,” Suárez said through the team’s interpreter. “I’m able to compete.”

He should be fresh, too. Suárez did not pitch until May because of an injured left elbow.

“I missed almost two months, so I want to make up for it,” he said. “If it’s tomorrow, in a week, two weeks, in the postseason, whenever I have to make up for it, I’ll be ready for that.”

Suárez served as the Phillies’ Swiss Army knife last postseason. He started. He closed. He pitched high-leverage innings in between as a reliever. It couldn’t have worked any better.

Thomson said he considers Suárez a starter at this point, which means the Phillies might need a replacement for that Swiss Army knife role.  could be that guy. Thomson said that  and Lorenzen will piggyback in Tuesday’s game in Atlanta, which he hopes will allow the Phillies to reset the bullpen.

“We’ve been running with one less bullpen arm for a while now,” Thomson said. “It might help us out.”

Sánchez is expected to start the rest of the way, or at least pitch the bulk of the innings every five days. The lefty is 2-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 16 starts and he has shown no signs of slowing down, despite pitching a career-high 137 innings, which includes his 49 2/3 frames at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Sánchez on Wednesday pitched a career-high 7 1/3 innings against the Braves, who have the best offense in baseball. He struck out a career-high 10, including eight on changeups.

“The way he looked the other day, it didn’t look like September to me,” Thomson said. “His velocity was good, the command was great, the secondary pitches were great. It doesn’t look like he’s slowing down.”

Lorenzen, however, has a 7.96 ERA in his last five starts.

Asked why the Phillies want to piggyback Sánchez and Lorenzen on Tuesday, rather than just start Sánchez and get Lorenzen accustomed to a bullpen role, like Zach Eflin last year, Thomson said, “I think that’ll happen. Now the next time they come up [Sept. 24] against the Mets, when that spot comes up, we’ll figure that one out when we get there. This time, though, we’ll try to get as much as we can out of the two of them.”

Thomson said Lorenzen is “on board” with the decision.

“As I said to him, ‘I consider you a starter, and moving forward you’re going to be a starter,’” Thomson said. “Because he pitched well all year. After the no-hitter, he’s kind of come back a little bit, but I would trust him as a starter. And he was all-in. He was like, ‘Yeah, now it’s time to win. Whatever we have to do.’ He gets it.”