Phillies Vs. Cubs: Ranger Suarez Struggles, Phils’ Pitching Concerns Growing

Phillies’ pitching concerns growing by the day originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Twice this week, the Phillies had a starting pitcher last less than one inning. This Sunday may end up being a straight bullpen game.

Suffice it to say, the Phils needed length out of Ranger Suarez in Friday’s series opener against the visiting Chicago Cubs. They knew he’d be capped around 90 pitches in his second start since returning from an elbow injury but hoped he could take them at least into the middle innings.


Suarez recorded just six outs Friday night in a 10-1 Phillies loss that ended, for the third time, with infielder Kody Clemens on the mound. Suarez threw 41 pitches in his second and final inning, a game after Taijuan Walker threw 40 pitches and didn’t make it out of the first inning in San Francisco.

The first six Cubs reached base against Suarez in that second inning. It went single, single, walk, two-run single, two-run double, walk before Suarez struck out the next three.

“Looked like he was trying to find his changeup,” manager Rob Thomson said. “I don’t know if fatigue set in in that second inning, but he left the ball up and over the plate and couldn’t find his changeup. They weren’t biting on it anyway. Then his pitch count got so high and coming off of injury, I couldn’t send him back out.

“I don’t know whether he’s giving something away (tipping pitches). We look at that stuff all the time. We’ll try to figure that out.”

The Phillies’ rotation has left a lot to be desired through 44 games with a 5.06 ERA, well above the league average of 4.50.

The Phils currently have no fifth starter after optioning Bailey Falter (0-7, 5.13) to Triple A. They have to be concerned about the hittability and lack of command from Walker, who has a 6.53 ERA with his highest walk rate in a decade after signing a four-year, $72 million contract.

And Suarez is still building himself up. He made no starts in spring training before departing for the World Baseball Classic, which he left immediately with forearm tightness. His rehab assignment lasted three starts and he’s made two more in the majors. Physically, this is closer to the end of spring training for Suarez than May 19.

“I just see it as a bad day, I had a bad day,” Suarez said. “I felt good coming in but I wasn’t locating my pitches tonight.

“It is frustrating because every time I get on the mound, I expect to go deep into games. You’ve got to turn the page. Today was a bad day for me and next time, I’ll be better.”

The Phillies (20-24) don’t have the luxury of waiting long for Suarez to get up to speed, not with their other issues in the rotation and with seven games looming at the end of the month against the Braves and Mets.

“We need to get it going, we really do,” Thomson said. “We need to fight our way out of this thing. This whole stretch where we win four, lose six, win five, lose five, I’m not sure if I’ve seen a stretch like this.”

No decision has been made yet about the No. 5 starter for Sunday or moving forward. Thomson said there could be news Saturday. The Phillies used Connor Brogdon as an opener in front of Falter on Monday and it did not work, with Brogdon throwing 28 pitches and recording only two outs, then Falter allowing six unearned runs in relief.

The Phillies’ defense hurt them again Friday night with three ugly plays in the fifth inning. Kyle Schwarber bobbled a ball that resulted in an extra base for Seiya Suzuki to open the frame. Bryson Stott muffed a hard-hit ground ball from Christopher Morel that took a funky hop and scored two runs. Then Nico Hoerner hit a line drive to deep right field that clanged off the top of Nick Castellanos’ glove for a two-run double.

Internal starting pitching options beyond Falter are not plentiful. Lefties Cristopher Sanchez and Michael Plassmeyer, both on the 40-man roster, have struggled at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Mick Abel has walked 16 in 30 innings at Double A Reading and gave up nine runs in 3⅔ innings in a start last week. Noah Skirrow allowed five runs and two homers in 3⅔ innings Tuesday night for LHV. Top prospect Andrew Painter (elbow) is still at least a few months away from contributing at the major-league level. 

It goes without saying that the Phils cannot afford any injuries in the short- or long-term to Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, who rank second and fourth in the majors in innings pitched since 2018. This is a precarious place to be rotationally more than a week before Memorial Day.

“We’re taxing our bullpen, that’s for sure,” Thomson said.

The Phillies were also held to one or no runs for the ninth time already, representing more than one-fifth of their games this season.

They were hitless again with runners in scoring position and are 2-for-42 in those spots the last five games, all losses.

Trea Turner went 0-for-4 and has a .592 OPS in his last 25 games with seven times as many strikeouts as walks, his deepest funk in any month since at least May 2017.

“You see that a lot when a player comes to a new town, new contract, new teammates, new fanbase,” Thomson said. “I think he’s trying to do too much and he just needs to slow it down.

“The history of their playing ability and the numbers they’ve put up, we think it’s going to turn around and I’m positive that it will, knowing the character of the people that we have in the clubhouse and the character of our coaching staff.

“Having said that, we need to get it going.”

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