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Phillies not giving up on Ranger Suárez proving to be well worth their while

How Ranger Suárez went from being a hitter to one of the Phillies' best starting pitchers.

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CINCINNATI – This is probably as good a time as any, now that Ranger Suárez is one of the hottest starting pitchers in baseball, to mention that the Phillies gave up on the Venezuelan lefthander shortly after signing him as an international free agent in 2012.

He was 16 years old. And they quickly concluded he didn’t have much future. . .as an outfielder. So, with nothing to lose, they decided to try him as a pitcher.

“We stuck him on the mound and the rest is history,” Phillies senior adviser, international scouting Sal Agostinelli said by phone from the Phillies academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. “We (signed him for) his bat, but I give our scout credit. He said to me, ‘If this guy doesn’t hit enough, he can really, really pitch.’ We played him a couple games in the outfield and he just didn’t hit well. His bat was a little below average.

“He wound up being a pleasant surprise. He’s very athletic. He has a really loose arm. And he’s going to get better. He just gets better at everything he does. Every once in awhile you get lucky.”

Well, Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey famously noted that luck is the residue of design. And Agostinelli was quick to mention Latin American coordinators Jesus Mendez and Carlos Salas for their roles in bringing Suárez into the organization.

Once in the right place at the right time, Suárez began working on his delivery. Finally, in his third year in the Venezuelan Summer League, everything began falling into place. He made 14 starts. His earned run average was 1.56. But those weren’t even his most impressive statistics.

He pitched 80.2 innings. He struck out 78. He held opponents to a .218 average. But those weren’t the most eye-popping, almost incomprehensible numbers, either. This was:

He walked just one batter all season. “Crazy,” Agostinelli said. Suárez’s days as an outfielder were officially over.

Monday night at Great American Ball Park, Suárez blanked the Reds on two singles for seven innings, extending his scoreless streak to 25 innings while lowering his ERA to 1.36 and his WHIP to 0.70. And he’s still just 28 years old.

“I liked playing the outfield because, growing up and playing with my friends, I was always an outfielder,” he said Tuesday through interpreter Diego D’Aniello. But when I went to the academy, they told me they wanted me as a pitcher. I told them, ‘Yeah, I’ll pitch. It was an opportunity that was given to me and I had to take advantage of that.”

And did he think he’d be in the big leagues now if he had stayed in the outfield? He grinned. “No, I don’t think so,” he said in perfect English.

CIRCLE THE DATE: After righthander Taijuan Walker threw in the bullpen before Tuesday night’s game against the Reds at Great American Ballpark, Phillies manager Rob Thomson announced that he’ll make his first start of the season Sunday against the Padres at Petco. He’s been on the injured list with shoulder soreness since spring training.

That allows the Phillies to split up their lefthanders, Ranger Suárez and Cristopher Sánchez, in the rotation. It also means that, almost certainly, righthander Spencer Turnbull will go to the bullpen despite being 2-0, 1.23 going into his Wednesday night start against Reds LHP Nick Lodolo (2-0, 0.75) beginning at 6:40.

Walker led the team with 15 wins last year but struggled enough in the second half to be the odd man out in the postseason, ultimately not getting into a single game.

It will be RHP Zack Wheeler (1-3, 2.30) vs. Reds RHP Nick Martinez (0-0, 4.76) in Thursday’s 1:10 p.m. series finale. That leaves Aaron Nola, Suárez and Walker lined up to start against the Padres over the weekend.

HE SAID IT: Third baseman Alec Bohm had a reputation for being a below average defender when the Phillies drafted him in the first round (third overall) in the 2018 draft. Rob Thomson believes that scouting report is outdated.

“His confidence, his ability to play third base, has gone from below average to above average,” the manager declared. “Throw all the numbers out the window. I don’t even understand the numbers, to tell you the truth. I just know what I see with my eyes, compared to other third basemen around the league, and he’s better than most of them.”

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