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Ranger Suárez, Phillies cruise to their 7th straight win

A key factor to the Phillies' success has been their starting pitching going deep into games to begin the season.

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CINCINNATI – The 2021 season wasn’t the best season in Phillies history and far, far from the worst. It was a middle-of-the-road, neutral shade of gray, ho-hum kind of season which ended with the team out of the playoffs for the tenth straight year.

Scattered among the rubble were some high notes, though. Bryce Harper won his second National League MVP Award, first since signing with the Phillies. Even though an 82-80 record wasn’t scintillating, it ended a streak of nine consecutive losing series.

And, just maybe, the brightest ray of sunshine that emerged from the entire exercise was the performance of 25-year-old Venezuelan lefthander Ranger Suarez. In 39 appearances, 12 of them starts, his earned run average was 1.36. Opponent’s batted .194 against him. He had the longest scoreless streak (21 innings) of any Phillies starter. . .as well as any Phillies reliever (15.1 innings).

Baseball is, of course, the most humbling game. There were back spasms in 2022. A strained elbow after arriving in spring training following a stint in the World Baseball Classic. Hitters likely made adjustments as well.

Don’t look now. . .

It’s still April. So much can, and probably will, happen between now and the finish line. But right now, Suarez couldn’t pitch much better than he has. In fact, he’s pitching so well that he flubbed the pop quiz when jokingly asked if he could remember the last time he gave up a run.

Ha laughed. He indicated that, of course he knew. Then he confidently answered, through interpreter Diego D’Aniello that it was in the first series of the season against the Braves.

Wrong. It was in his second start, at Washington on April 6. More specifically, in the fourth inning. He’s pitched 25 innings since without being scored on after giving up two singles in seven innings of a 7-0 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

It was also the team’s seventh straight win and an invisible rebuke to the notion that they had built up their record by gleefully piling on two of the worst teams in baseball, the Rockies and White Sox. And they took the first game of a three-city road trip without Bryce Harper, who will miss three games while on paternity leave.

The Phillies have averaged 6.4 runs per game during the streak. That’s impressive but pales in comparison to the ludicrous 0.70 ERA the rotation has combined for in the same games.

“I don’t have the vocabulary to explain it,” Rob Thomson said. “These guys are throwing strikes and they’ve got great stuff. When you have both of those, you’ve got something. But we have to keep them healthy.”

As for Suarez, the manager said that he threw a little harder three years ago. “But he’s a pitcher. Old school,” Thomson said. “He changes speeds. He can locate. Throws strikes with all his pitches. He does all the little things. Holds runners. Fields his position. He’s a complete pitcher.”

Suarez was coming off a complete game in which he threw 112 pitches, and that’s always a concern in this era. Thomson told him before the game his pitch limit was 80; he ended up needing just 88 to complete seven innings. “I was thinking of taking him out after six but he had so few pitches it would have been ridiculous,” he said with a laugh.

There’s a synergy between offense and defense. Starting pitchers are more likely to throw shutouts when they don’t think they have to in order to win, that the lineup will put some big numbers up on the board. Conversely, hitters can be more relaxed at the plate not believing that they have to outslug the opposition.

“It’s awesome,” said third baseman Alec Bohm. “Every time you look up, it’s the sixth inning and (our starter) has between 60 and 70 pitches and they’re dealing. We know the type of talent they have and for them all to be putting it together at the same time, that’s how you go on a winning streak. Hat’s off to those guys. They’ve set us up for a lot of success.”

And the offense?

“Being able to build a lead and keep adding on – it was four innings in a row (second through fifth) that we scored a run. Sometimes that’s how you’ve got to do it, right?”

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