The Phillies are indeed moving Ranger Suarez, who had been serving as their closer, into the starting rotation.
Suarez will start for the Phillies Monday in D.C. against the Nationals.
“We’ve always envisioned Ranger as a starter,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We brought some guys in to start this year. There’s been some struggles. Ranger’s done a really good job in whatever role we’ve put him in. It’s not going to happen right away but we need more distance and consistency out of our rotation spots and that’s why we put him there.”
Ian Kennedy, acquired at Friday’s trade deadline from the Rangers, will be the closer. The 36-year-old right-hander was having a strong season saving games for Texas, going 16 for 17 with a 2.51 ERA and .270 opponents’ on-base percentage.
The Phillies’ rotation has been shaken up significantly. Chase Anderson is also replacing Vince Velasquez, who has allowed 42 earned runs in his last 45 innings.
Kyle Gibson, acquired an hour before the deadline with Kennedy and 22-year-old pitching prospect Hans Crouse in exchange for Spencer Howard and two minor-league pitchers, will start Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The next cycle through the Phillies’ rotation, beginning with Aaron Nola Saturday, will be:
- Saturday: Nola
- Sunday: Gibson
- Monday: Suarez
- Tuesday: Zack Wheeler
- Wednesday: Anderson
And then Nola again Thursday.
The Phillies hope to have Zach Eflin (knee tendinitis) back by the middle of August but there isn’t yet a firm timetable.
“I’m hopeful that Zach comes back because otherwise (Gibson) just replaces Zach,” Phillies president of baseball operations David Dombrowski said Friday. “I’m hopeful that within two to three weeks, Zach will be back and all of the sudden, we’ll be running four established starting pitchers out there that have been successful at the big-league level.”
Suarez, who turns 26 next month, has filled a variety of roles for the Phillies. He came up as a starter and made three starts in 2018 before shifting into a bullpen role. Out of the ‘pen, he found success as both a long man and high-leverage reliever. He has a 1.12 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 27 appearances covering 40⅓ innings this season. In 108 career big-league innings, his ERA is 3.33.
Suarez will not be going deep into games any time soon. His season-high in pitches is 47, so his pitch count will likely be built out incrementally as if it were spring training. Howard had averaged under 3⅔ innings in his 13 big-league starts with the Phils before being traded and Matt Moore averaged 4⅔ since returning to the rotation, so it’s not as if they’ll be losing any length. If Suarez averages 13 to 15 pitches per inning in his first start, he could get through four and go from there.
His ninth-inning replacement, Kennedy, is an experienced strike-thrower who saved 30 games two seasons ago for the Royals in his first year as a reliever. He spent the prior 12 seasons as a starter, beginning his career with Joe Girardi’s Yankees. Kennedy’s best season was 2011 when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. Phillies fans will recall his three-hit shutout of the 102-win team that season.
Five of every six pitches, Kennedy throws his mid-90s, four-seam fastball. It’s not elite velocity but it’s good enough, and any team would take 94 with late life and command over straight 96-97.
He spots it masterfully both just above the strike zone and on the outside corner. He’s not scared. In the two full seasons he’s been a closer, he’s walked just 24 batters in 95⅔ innings.