Phillies

Phillies to promote Ranger Suarez, the prospect once coveted by Orioles in Manny Machado trade talks

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Cheryl Pursell/Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Phillies to promote Ranger Suarez, the prospect once coveted by Orioles in Manny Machado trade talks

The name Ranger Suarez has been surrounded by some significant buzz recently. Not only has the 22-year-old left-hander pitched very well for the Phillies’ Triple A Lehigh Valley club, he was also high on the Baltimore Orioles’ wish list in trade discussions involving Manny Machado.

The Phillies’ bid to land Machado failed — for now, at least, because it will ramp up again in the offseason when the slugging infielder becomes a free agent — and Suarez remains in the Phillies organization.

Now, he’s headed to the big leagues.

Suarez will make his major-league debut when he starts for the Phillies against the Cincinnati Reds on the road Thursday night. After playing a doubleheader on Sunday, the Phillies needed a starter and Suarez has earned a look. He is 5-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 15 starts at Double A and Triple A this season. His last three starts have come at Lehigh Valley. He has allowed just one run in 15 2/3 innings while striking out 12 and walking four in those starts. In 90 2/3 innings at Double A and Triple A this season, he has allowed just two home runs.

Manager Gabe Kapler said he was “very excited” about seeing what Suarez can do. The Phillies have not used a left-handed starting pitcher since Adam Morgan faced Atlanta on Sept. 28, 2016.

“He's shown the ability to get swings and misses in and out of the strike zone,” Kapler said of Suarez. “He’s got a good sinker, incredible demeanor — we saw it in spring training. There's some courage there. He has a lot of swag on the mound. There’s some bravado. I don't think situations get too big for him. We have a lot of confidence in him and we believe that he has a lot of confidence in himself.”

The Phillies signed Suarez for $25,000 out of his native Venezuela in 2012. He has two brothers, Rayner and Rosmer, and a sister, Rangerlin.

“We have a family tradition that every name starts with the letter R,” he said during a visit to Philadelphia in January.

During that visit, Suarez was asked what his goal was for the 2018 season.

“Grandes ligas,” he said.

And now it’s happening.

With the Phillies.

Not the Orioles.

Roster moves
In need of a fresh arm in the bullpen, the Phillies recalled right-hander Drew Anderson and sent Yacksel Rios to Triple A before Tuesday night's game against the Dodgers.

Outfielder Roman Quinn continues to progress quickly after his return from May surgery to repair a ligament injury in his right middle finger. He has been moved from Reading to Lehigh Valley and could be in play for a spot on the big-league bench soon.

Eickhoff heads back to Florida
Jerad Eickhoff headed back to Florida on Tuesday night. He will throw to hitters over the weekend in Clearwater.

Eickhoff has not pitched all season, most recently because of tingling in his right fingers. The condition has plagued him for nearly a year. The pitcher recently had a second anti-inflammatory injection in his wrist and reports improvement. He remains optimistic that he will pitch this season.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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