Like many high-profile athletes, Bryce Harper doesn’t much like talking about his own performance, particularly during the season.
Ask him about a productive teammate and the words pour out.
Harper talked throughout the 2021 season about how impressed he was by Ranger Suarez. He wasn’t alone there — everyone with the Phillies was impressed by Suarez and his 1.36 ERA.
Speaking after the Phillies’ final game of the season this past Sunday, Harper endorsed Suarez for a National League award.
“Trey Mancini would probably be the American League Comeback Player of the Year, but my National League pick would definitely be Ranger Suarez,” Harper said. “He wasn’t able to pitch last year because of COVID. He got wiped out pretty much all year last year because of that and for him to come back and do his job like he did for us, I have no higher praise for him.”
Mancini’s story is remarkable. He was diagnosed in 2020 with stage 3 colon cancer, underwent chemotherapy and missed the season. He returned to the Orioles this year and played 147 games.
Suarez appeared in just three games last summer. He was battling in spring training 2020 for the fifth spot in the Phillies’ rotation when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country.
Suarez then tested positive for COVID while working out at the Phillies’ facility in Clearwater. He remained quarantined in his hotel room for a month until he could register two negative tests. He did not step back onto a mound until August and did not appear in the majors until September.
This season, Suarez was the Phillies’ third-best player. He had a 0.93 ERA when he became the team’s closer in early July. He posted a 1.59 ERA as the closer. He moved into the rotation after the trade deadline and delivered a 1.51 ERA in 12 starts.
“Every time he goes out there, we have an opportunity to win a game,” Harper said. “Every time he goes out there, no moment is too big. I’ve said it before, if we were going to get into the postseason, he was going to be one the reasons why we won it. The league hasn’t seen him. Other teams haven’t seen him. He’s been very dominant to lefties and righties in all situations.”
The question is how much of that dominance Suarez can maintain in 2022. There will be more of a book on him, though it’s not as if nobody had ever seen him before. He had pitched in 44 big-league games prior to 2021.
The Phillies don’t need a 1.36 ERA from Suarez again, though. He could more than double it to a reasonable mark like 3.30 and still be a valuable player.
As for the Comeback Player of the Year award, the 107-win Giants have a worthy candidate in Buster Posey. Posey did not play in 2020, sitting out the pandemic-shortened season after adopting newborn twin girls. He returned this season to hit .304 with an .889 OPS, the second-best of his career behind only his MVP season in 2012.