'Under the radar' Suárez more than a blip vs. Braves

October 13th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Ask teammates and coaches alike, and they’ll say nothing rattles Phillies left-hander on the mound. You certainly won’t see his pulse racing with his top two buttons undone.

“I like having my jersey open a little bit,” Suárez said via interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “I don't like it when it's too tight on my neck. I feel comfortable that way.”

The calm and collected Suárez held the powerful Braves lineup to just one run over five innings Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park during the Phillies’ 3-1 victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, helping Philadelphia advance to its second consecutive NL Championship Series.

Though the Phillies’ 1A and 1B punch of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola garner most of the attention, Suárez continues to thrive in October. His postseason ERA of 1.16 ranks third all time (minimum five starts), behind Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax (0.95) and Christy Mathewson (0.97). Philadelphia has won all seven games he has appeared in during the postseason.

“Ranger steps up in the big moments all the time,” Nola said. “We saw that last year, too. He's a bulldog out there. He competes every single pitch, no matter what the situation is.

“I feel like he goes under the radar a lot, and he's done so much for this club. It's overlooked by a lot of people. What he did tonight was awesome. He kept us right there in the game, and we knew what he was going to do when he stepped on that mound in the first inning, and he did great.”

The Phillies have eliminated the Braves in the NLDS two straight years, and Suárez set the tone each time in the series opener.

In 2022, Suárez limited Atlanta to one run across 3 1/3 innings in Game 1. The 28-year-old left-hander followed that up with 3 2/3 scoreless frames Saturday and took it up a notch on Thursday in the clincher.

Suárez’s lone blemish came on Austin Riley’s solo homer with one out in the fourth inning to break up a no-hitter. Suárez permitted just two more hits while striking out two and walking none. He pitched to contact, tallying just five whiffs on 40 swings (12.5%). 

“I just think he’s such a cool and confident guy,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “Obviously, he has really good stuff. He’s able to mix speeds so well, keeps the hitter guessing. He’s very unpredictable because he can throw so many pitches for strikes -- and so many pitches for chase. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a pitcher, being able to mix and command the strike zone and attack hitters.

“He looked great. It was as good as I've seen him. He made one pitch where he cut the changeup down and in. Other than that, everything was executed perfectly.

“He’s been a big-game pitcher for us forever. He was huge for us last year. He’s been great for us so far this year. Our team is very confident when he's on the mound.”

Five Phillies relievers then combined for the final four frames, eliminating the division-rival Braves, MLB’s top seed.

“They were really good,” Riley said. “You’ve got to tip their cap. Starting pitching to the bullpen, not a lot of balls over the middle to capitalize on, and [they] made it tough on us.”

As Philadelphia’s postseason run gets deeper, Suárez could continue to swing things in his club’s favor, just like he did in 2022. Last postseason, he was a Swiss Army knife, making three starts and even recording the save to send his club to the World Series. 

In a best-of-seven NLCS against the D-backs, Wheeler and Nola are slated to duel Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in Games 1 and 2. Suárez would likely line up against rookie Brandon Pfaadt for Game 3 next Thursday in Arizona. The Phillies wouldn’t want anyone else to start a postseason game on the road. Suárez is built for it.

“He's a big-time pitcher,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “The moment doesn't get to him. He steps up, whether it's closing up the National League Championship Series or a starter or in middle relief. He's unbelievable. No heartbeat. A lot of poise. He just gets it done.”