Matt Gelb of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that Philadelphia Phillies' left-handed starter Ranger Suárez will begin a rehab assignment on Thursday. Suárez was set to pitch for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, but never made an appearance as he was called back to Clearwater on March 10th with tightness in his left forearm. The Phillies, rightfully so, wanted to be cautious with their pitcher as a new season loomed on the horizon.
Almost seven weeks later, the reliable left-hander is on pace to make his first rehab start with Double-A Reading on Thursday. Suárez is expected to pitch two innings in his 2023 debut. Rob Thomson indicated last week that he expects Suárez will need three or four rehab starts to build arm strength before he is ready to pitch in Philadelphia. If all goes well, that should put him on track to return to the Phillies in the second or third week of May— not far from the anticipated return of Bryce Harper.
Suárez had his breakout year with the Phillies in 2021. That year he made 39 appearances— twelve of them starts— and posted a 1.36 ERA in 106 innings pitched. Heading into the 2022 season, Suárez was all but a lock to make the starting rotation. He made the most of it. The southpaw finished the season with a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts.
Suárez also made a huge impact for the Phillies in the postseason. He had a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 postseason innings. The most memorable, perhaps, was when Thomson brought the perpetually calm lefty in to close out game 5 of the NLCS taking the Phillies to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
The Phillies rotation will be significantly stronger when Suárez returns. He has proven to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter who can be reliable and eat innings. When Suárez returns, the Phillies will need to alter their rotation to fit him into it.
How will Ranger Suárez's return impact the rotation?
The Phillies will have to choose between Bailey Falter and Matt Strahm when Suárez makes his return. Both have pitched reasonably well to start the season. Which one of the two should move to the bullpen once the rotation becomes too crowded?
The answer here is Matt Strahm. Strahm was originally signed in the offseason as a reliever but was called on to start when the rotation took on some injuries. While Strahm has arguably pitched more effectively than Falter, it makes more sense to move him to a relief role.
The first reason for this is that Strahm only threw 44 2/3 innings last year. There is no conceivable way that he could pitch a starter's workload without the risk of injury or tiring. He can still be used in spot starts and long-relief roles, but should not be relied on as a 20+ game starter. Strahm also has better stuff in the bullpen. He can be more dominant than Falter in high leverage situations, especially in shorter outings in which he can go 100% in his appearances.
The Phillies are in a good spot in that they are benefitting from midseason additions that are already on their roster. The addition of Suárez to the rotation only strengthens the depth of the pitching staff.