Ranger Suarez allowed his first two earned runs of the spring Saturday but he again showed the Phillies a little something in his bid to win the fifth starter's competition.
Suarez escaped damage in the first inning, had a 1-2-3 second and pitched out of a jam in the third with three straight strikeouts after Kevin Pillar's two-run double.
A major key this season for Suarez is finishing counts. He is a quick worker with above-average control who does not have trouble getting ahead 0-2 or 1-2. But pitchers who don't have a big fastball or wipe-out secondary pitch often have more trouble with the third strike than the first two. If Suarez can miss a few more bats in those spots like he did Saturday, his value will rise. He already has the ability to generate the double-play ball.
He punched out Philly native and Neumann-Goretti grad Josh Ockimey on a full count to end the first inning and whiffed Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Plawecki and Ockimey consecutively to end the third. This wasn't the Red Sox A-lineup but it was good work from Suarez nonetheless.
Unlike the two right-handers vying for the final spot in the Phillies' rotation — Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez — the lefty Suarez is not a big bat-misser. His success comes from control and his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Suarez had a groundball rate of 55% last season. The league average was 43%.
He did allow four hard-hit balls Saturday, including three to the first four batters he faced. Suarez didn't keep the ball as low as he would have liked in that first inning. He was aided by a nifty 5-6-3 double play. A bullet was hit right at Jean Segura at third base, who gloved the short hop and fired to Didi Gregorius, who turned the double play. The early returns have been promising from Segura as he prepares for everyday third base duty for the first time.
The Phillies staked Suarez to an early six-run lead, scoring once in the first inning and five times in the second. Bryce Harper's double led to the first run. J.T. Realmuto had the big knock in the second inning, a two-run double. Realmuto continues to lead off for the Phillies and, at this point, seems like a good bet to be atop the order on opening day sans Andrew McCutchen.