In just three short weeks, pitchers and catchers will report to Clearwater, Florida for their first official workout before the rest of the team joins them a few days later. For the Phillies, this spring training will have a different feel than it did over the past decade. The cumulonimbus cloud of a postseason drought no longer exists in the minds of the players and coaches. Rather, a hunger for a World Series championship will occupy that space following a near win last year. The Phillies now know what it takes to win––and have added the pieces necessary to give them an even better chance this year. But one of the catalysts from last year’s National League Championship team may be a bit of a forgotten player as the weather warms on the west coast of Florida.

Ranger Suarez, the man who got the final out to send the Phillies to the World Series, is entering his age 27 season with three years left of control before hitting free agency. After a surprisingly superb 2021 season where Suarez pitched to a 1.36 ERA as a starter and closer, Suarez continued to be a model of consistency in 2022. The lefty finished the regular season with 129 strikeouts in 155.1 innings while posting an ERA+ of 111 (the MLB average is 100). Slotted behind aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, Suarez solidified the middle of the Phils’ rotation––especially when the team lost Zach Eflin for the majority of the second half of the season. 

With all the focus on Wheeler and Nola atop of the rotation, the addition of Taijuan Walker, and the highly anticipated debut of the Phillies top prospect––and No. 6 in all of baseball––Andrew Painter, Suarez just may be overlooked. Suarez is not a flamethrower by any stretch of the imagination––his fastball only averages 93.2 mph. But, with command of at least four pitches in his arsenal, Suarez has the ability to locate effectively with late movement. For example, according to Baseball Savant, the lefty throws 43.8% of his pitches on the corner of the strike zone. The league average is 39%. Regardless of how hard a pitcher throws, being able to command the edges of the zone is a recipe for success––Greg Maddux made a Hall of Fame career out of it.

This is not to say Ranger Suarez is on a Hall of Fame track. That would be foolish to even remotely consider. However, the lefty’s ability to pitch with a low heartbeat is why he’s the anchor in the middle of the Phils’ rotation. It’s why Rob Thomson trusted Suarez to come in for the final out of the NLCS on just one day of rest and went to him again in Game 1 of the World Series before letting him start Game 3. So, while all the focus is on the other four in the rotation, don’t forget about Ranger Suarez––who just may be the second best starter on most teams. Luckily for the Phillies, Suarez will likely start the third or fourth game of the season due to a newfound abundance of rotation depth.

In 2022, the Phillies found out that Suarez’s 2021 campaign wasn’t a fluke––the lefty is the real deal. He can pitch at any given moment and be trusted in the most dire situations. What other young lefty starter did that for the club during his first deep run in the playoffs? Cole Hamels. If Suarez can be what Hamels was in 2008, then the Phillies have three aces with at least two other solid rotation options for the next October run. This is only the beginning of what could be the next great Phillies dynasty. Get ready, 2023 is almost here.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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