Suarez fantastic, Harper turns it on late, Phillies play great D to win series

Suarez fantastic, Harper turns it on late, Phillies play great D to win series originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

So this is what a full spring training can do for Ranger Suarez …

All the recent talk about what a full complement of Grapefruit League starts could mean for the Phillies’ lefty after his season debut had been delayed by more than a month in three of the last four years has proven to be accurate early on.

Suarez dominated the Rockies over nine of the most low-stress innings you’ll see, pitching the National League’s first shutout of 2024 to improve to 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA through four starts. The Phillies have won all four.

The rotation has been the Phils’ main strength through six series. Their starters have a 2.69 ERA, best in the National League.

Suarez is off to a faster start than ever. There were two spring trainings he dealt with visa issues. Last year, there was the World Baseball Classic and a forearm injury. But this time, he was ready to go on opening weekend and the Phillies have been a much better team because of it.

Suarez’ career-high in innings is 155⅔. One of his goals this season is to reach 175-180. Only 31 pitchers league-wide last season hit 175 innings and the Phillies feel they could have as many as four. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola do it annually, Suarez is hoping to take the next step with durability, Cristopher Sanchez has the kind of frame the organization thinks can withstand a heavy workload, and Taijuan Walker, who made a successful rehab start Tuesday night with Triple A Lehigh Valley, topped 170 just a year ago.

Suarez didn’t put a runner in scoring position until the sixth inning of the Phillies’ 5-0 win. He needed just 25 pitches to record the first nine outs. He made good on an advantageous matchup against a Rockies team bereft of offense with even less thump from the right side.

As usual, he fielded his position with aplomb. Suarez fielded comebackers in the first, sixth, seventh and ninth innings. He seems to have at least two every start. If he qualifies for the Gold Glove award this season (at least 138 innings through the first 138 games), this could be the year he wins it.

Great defense by the Phillies ended the top of the sixth and seventh innings. In the sixth, Bryce Harper made a heads-up play after Ryan McMahon hit a soft ground ball between short and third. McMahon was safe at first base, but Alan Trejo overran the third-base bag and Harper scurried across the diamond to retire him in a rundown.

With two outs in the seventh, Elehuris Montero laced a ball off the wall in left field but Brandon Marsh fielded it with his barehand and fired a perfect strike to Bryson Stott at second base, leaping in celebration with center fielder Johan Rojas.

And in the eighth, Alec Bohm made a diving snag to rob Michael Toglia of extra bases and keep Suarez’ pitch count low enough for him to begin the ninth and finish what he started.

Marsh’s defensive play was the loudest moment of the night from a crowd of 35,010 until Harper stepped to the plate in the eighth inning and smoked a two-run homer to right field. He drove in the Phils’ final three runs with that homer and a sixth-inning double to left-center. When Harper connects, the crack of the bat just sounds different. Both balls traveled 104 mph off his bat.

The Phillies led from the first inning on thanks to a two-run shot from J.T. Realmuto. They’d scored just two runs in the first inning of their previous five games combined.

The Phillies go for a sweep Wednesday at 6:05 p.m. when Sanchez opposes right-hander Ryan Feltner, who shut them out over 5⅔ innings last April at Citizens Bank Park but didn’t make it out of the second inning against them three weeks later in Colorado.

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