Phillies rotation notes: Walker sore, Suarez efficient, Wheeler returns

Phillies rotation notes: Walker sore, Suarez efficient, Wheeler returns originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies played two games on Friday, with Aaron Nola on the mound in Clearwater and Ranger Suarez making his first start of the spring in Lakeland against the Tigers.

Both went three innings. Nola was hit hard by the Marlins, allowing four runs on seven hits (three doubles) over three innings. Manager Rob Thomson said afterward that Nola was specifically staying away from his go-to curveball. He threw that pitch more than any other in 2023.

"He went out and the plan was to not use his curveball much. He wanted to work on his fastball command, his cutter and changeup," Thomson said. "The stuff was actually not bad, for me. But I think they were hacking and he was throwing a lot of strikes and he wasn't using his curveball."

In the other game, Suarez breezed through three scoreless innings on 38 pitches. He retired the first eight Tigers he faced and gave up just a single.

Suarez is already ahead of where he was in camp a year ago, when he left for the World Baseball Classic and returned early because of a forearm/elbow injury that ended up delaying his season debut until May 13. He didn't pitch in any spring games a year ago.

"I heard that he looked very good, very efficient," Thomson said. "Good news."

The news wasn't as good with Taijuan Walker, who experienced right knee soreness Friday. Walker was away from camp last week for a personal reason. He returned and threw batting practice on Thursday.

"He came in (Friday) and it's just normal spring training soreness," Thomson said.

Walker was able to play catch in the outfield Saturday. He, too, had an abbreviated spring with the Phillies in 2023 because he pitched for Mexico in the WBC. He didn't find a groove until mid-May. From May 21 through August 22, he went 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 16 starts representing more than half of his season. Walker entered 2024 with something to prove after not being used at all in the playoffs, but he's a bit behind schedule.

Walker and Zack Wheeler are the two members of the Phillies' rotation who haven't started a game yet this spring. Wheeler was away for three days as he and his wife Dominique welcomed their third child. The Phils' ace was back in camp Saturday and Thomson spoke to him briefly. He'll do some touch-and-feel throwing Sunday and the Phillies will develop a plan from there.

The fifth member of the rotation, Cristopher Sanchez, is tentatively set to make his second start of the spring on Sunday afternoon in North Port against the Braves, though it depends on how he feels. There's an illness spreading through the Phillies' clubhouse, which is why Mick Abel was scratched from starting Saturday. David Buchanan pitched in his place.

Sanchez broke out a new cutter and showed increased velocity in his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday against the Twins, promising signs as he looks to build on his excellent second half.