Did Ranger Suarez just become the Phillies’ closer?
It’s going to be difficult for manager Joe Girardi to turn away from him after the lefty retired Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado in order in the ninth inning Saturday for his first career save.
The Phillies have been searching for an effective late-inning bullpen formula for most of the season. They’ve spent weeks looking for a closer to replace Hector Neris, who lost the job in June as he blew four saves and posted an 8.22 ERA for the month.
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Girardi likes having an established closer rather than a rotating cast. When Neris was stripped of his closer’s duties, the job went to hard-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado because he has the best stuff in the bullpen.
But as nasty as those 100 mph sinkers from Alvarado can be, he hasn’t thrown enough strikes to seize the role. He’s walked 27 batters in 31 innings and allowed three runs Friday night in the Phillies’ latest blown save.
After Friday’s game, Girardi stood behind Alvarado as his closer, but even with Alvarado available for Saturday’s game, the manager went to Suarez.
“He’s just got such a slow heartbeat,” Girardi said. “And I’ve brought him into some tough situations this year with runners on and he’s done a really good job. Ranger’s not a guy who’s gonna reach for extra (velocity). He’s just going to make pitches and that’s what he did again tonight.
“The one thing that Ranger has is exceptional command. He has good stuff that he makes plus-plus because he hits spots. I looked at where we were in the lineup and Tatis is a guy you have to be able to make pitches and locations to or he’s going to kill you. You had Cronenworth, who is left-handed, then you had Machado, who’s another guy you’ve got to make pitches to. So I just felt it best to bring Ranger in.”
Suarez has a 0.85 ERA in 19 appearances this season. A former starting pitcher, he’s covered 31⅔ innings in those 19 appearances with 12 outings of more than one inning. He can cover multiple roles for the Phillies, pitching in high leverage or bridging the gap from the starter to the back-end of the bullpen.
“Yeah, of course,” Girardi said when asked if he’d consider Suarez again to close. “I’ve considered everything. With Ranger, sometimes it’s hard because you like all the different roles he can do. We will continue to discuss this but I liked what I saw.”
So did Zach Eflin, who allowed two runs on two hits over six innings to pick up his third win in the Phillies’ 4-2 victory.
“That’s what Ranger does, man. He comes into the game and he doesn’t give a crap who’s up hitting against him or what team he faces,” Eflin said. “He just goes right after guys. He pitches inside and he has three plus pitches that he can throw in any count. You just love watching him pitch because it’s natural, it’s passionate and he gets the job done.”
Lately, nobody in the Phillies’ bullpen has gotten consistent outs. Phillies relievers had allowed 41 runs in their last 37⅓ innings entering Saturday, when Bailey Falter, Archie Bradley and Suarez faced the minimum over three scoreless frames to close out Eflin’s win.
Count Bryce Harper among the Phils intrigued by Suarez as the closer.
“Every time Ranger goes out there, we as a group have all the faith he’s gonna get the job done and get the inning done as quickly as possible,” said Harper, who put the Phillies on the board early with his 14th home run of the year.
“In any given spot, he’s done a great job for us. Being able to be a strike-thrower like he is, he just pounded the zone like he knows how. Very impressed with that first outing for him.”
Suarez said the right things after the game about wanting to take the ball in whichever inning he’s called upon. He did slightly disagree with one of Girardi’s descriptors.
“It’s not that I have a slow heartbeat, it’s that I trust in myself,” he said. “I have plenty of confidence in all my pitches and my talent and what I can do to help this team.”