Phillies bullpen, bats take care of business despite rocky debut for Ranger Suarez
Phillies bullpen, bats take care of business despite rocky debut for Suarez originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Every baseball team operates on parallel tracks. The first focus is on winning the game at hand. At the same time, the staff is constantly monitoring how what happens today can impact tomorrow and the next day and all the next days that will come after that.
So when the Phillies traveling party arrived at Coors Field Saturday, beating the Rockies and extending their winning streak to a season-high five games was paramount.
They accomplished that with a 7-4 victory that put them above .500 for the second time this year and pulled them within five games of the first-place Braves in the National League East.
Widening the lens, though, the more significant omen for their chances of defending their National League championship than whatever else happened during nine innings of a mid-May game would be how well left-hander Ranger Suarez pitched in his season debut.
Suarez, of course, was expected to be a big part of the rotation coming into the season, along with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and free agent Taijuan Walker. Then, working out with Team Venezuela ahead of the World Baseball Classic, he hurt his elbow and had to go on the injured list.
While he rehabbed, the Big Three had mixed success. Lately, though, they’ve shown signs of settling in. In their last four starts Nola, Wheeler and Walker combined for a 2.52 earned run average. Adding a healthy, effective Suarez to that mix is a heady thought.
In the and-then-they-lived-happily-ever-after version of this story, Suarez would have buzzed through the Rockies' hitters on a dank mile-high night like a grounds crew mows the outfield grass.
That didn’t happen. Suarez was just all right, allowing three runs on seven hits in his four innings. He probably could have stayed in longer but was on a pitch limit since he hadn’t pitched in a big-league game since the World Series last fall.
There were some reasons to be happier about his outing than the naked numbers would indicate. While he struggled with command, especially with his changeup, he walked only one. He scattered his hits. And he was facing a high degree of difficulty; Coors Field is one of baseball’s funkiest venues for pitchers. He threw 72 pitches, 44 for strikes.
“I saw a lot of good stuff,” catcher Garrett Stubbs, who got the start in place of J.T. Realmuto who sprained his right pinkie finger Friday night, told reporters. “He came out today just filling up the zone. It’s a tough place to pitch. Your pitches don’t really do the same kind of thing that they do somewhere else.”
“So to watch him battle through that and then get outs, I think we got what we wanted out of him today.”
Rob Thomson agreed. “I thought he was okay,” the manager said. “His command isn’t what it would be in the middle of the season. But he battled. His location wasn’t Ranger-like, but this was like his first start out of spring training."
Bryce Harper made it unanimous. “He wasn’t Rangeresque. But we’re just happy to have him back out there,” he said.
Suarez was officially recalled Saturday after making three dominant rehab starts between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Reliever Luis Ortiz was optioned to the IronPigs to make room on the roster.
There were two other developments that bode well for the long run.
Harper doubled in the second inning and iced the game with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. He’s been productive from almost the moment he was activated, now hitting .361, but after getting just two extra-base hits in his first seven games back has three -- two doubles and a homer -- in his last two.
Also, the bullpen came up big again. The relievers' 19-inning scoreless streak ended in the eighth when the Rockies eked out an unearned run. The pen hasn’t given up an earned run since May 6.
No Jose Alvarado, no Serranthony Dominguez, no Craig Kimbrel, no problem. Gregory Soto stepped in and got the save.
After winning their previous two games on late-inning comebacks, this time the Phillies scored four times in the top of the first with two hits and four walks against Colorado starter Ryan Feltner. They then had to hold on as the Rockies chipped away at Suarez.
They had a runner on second with two outs in the second when Nick Castellanos hit a line drive back up the middle that hit Feltner on the right side of the head. Castellanos was visibly shaken, but Feltner was eventually able to walk off the field under his own power. He was taken to the hospital where he was reported to be resting comfortably.
After he left the game, the Phillies got only one more runner past second base until there were two out in the bottom of the eighth and Stubbs singled Kody Clemens home from second.
The Phillies have already assured themselves of winning a series in Colorado for the first time since 2012 and will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon when Nola (3-2, 4.44) faces Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (3-4, 3.57).