The Philadelphia Phillies are testing the old adage that there's no such thing as too much pitching.
Heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies are slotted first in the National League wild-card race, 2.5 games up on the Miami Marlins, who are currently occupying the third and final spot. As they try to create more separation from the San Francisco Giants, Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, their focus is dialed in on making it to the postseason healthy and as rested as possible.
Enter the Phillies' six-man rotation.
Nola, Wheeler and Suárez remain at the top of the rotation
Heading into the year, it seemed clear that the Phillies would have a solid top-four rotation. The fifth spot was more of a question mark.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler remain workhorses. Heading into Tuesday’s matchup, Wheeler has tossed 137.0 innings with a 3.74 ERA. Dating back to the start of the 2021 season, Wheeler has logged 503.1 innings, seventh-most in all of MLB. During that stretch, he has led the majors in wins above replacement (WAR) with 15.6, according to FanGraphs.
Oh, and No. 3 on that innings list? Nola with 534.0. And he checks in with a 13.2 WAR during that same stretch.
In 2023, the 30-year-old Nola sits at 148.1 innings with a 4.49 ERA. He has already given up 26 home runs, one away from his career high of 27 in 2019. During his last three starts, the right-hander hasn’t made it more than 5.1 innings, putting up a 6.60 ERA in 15.0 total innings, but he still sits seventh in total innings for the year across the majors.
While the extra rest, in theory, is a good thing, one pitcher who might not be too fond of it is the 33-year-old Wheeler, who spoke with Matt Gelb of The Athletic about the adjustment: "You're just not as synced just because it's more time than what you're used to. You've been doing it for so long that — even if you change it with your mindset — your body is just used to it. So I think you’d rather pitch on four days' rest at 80 percent and have that feel, rather than 90 percent with an extra day or two. That's just me, personally. So, I don't know."
Wheeler might be onto something too, as Gelb relayed Wheeler’s ERA when pitching on four days’ rest (1.60), five days (4.42) and six days (6.48).
Caleb Cotham, the Phillies pitching coach, alluded to this being a temporary solution when talking with Gelb: "Right now. I’ll take the rest a little bit for the guys — with the belief that at some point we're going to hit the gas pedal with our best."
Ranger Suárez got a late start to the season after injuring his elbow before the World Baseball Classic. When he returned, there was an adjustment period in May while he got his feet under himself. Since June 4, though, Suárez has a 3.16 ERA in 79.2 innings, striking out 72 batters while walking 28. He has made it through six innings in four of his past six starts.
Since June 4, the 27-year-old left-hander has thrown the sixth-most innings (79.2) in MLB, according to FanGraphs, and has the eighth-best left on base percentage (82.2 percent) among qualified pitchers.
There have been shaky outings from this crew, but Nola, Wheeler and Suárez are the anchors and likely aren’t going anywhere in the rotation.