Robert Suarez: From Opening Day pain to playoff gain

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Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Six months ago, Robert Suarez made his major league debut, being thrust into attempting to secure a save. 

It went poorly, to say the least. He walked two batters, hit another, and departed the game with the bases loaded and no outs. Craig Stammen eventually surrendered a walk-off home run, saddling Suarez with a loss. The Venezuelan pitcher hasn’t let that define him, having recorded a sub-2.00 ERA since opening day. All of that came together in front of a national audience when Suarez got six massive outs for the San Diego Padres, helping them to level the series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

It’s been a battle for Suarez, who missed two months due to knee surgery in the middle of the season. The right-hander had built a reputation of being an elite strikeout pitcher but one who struggled with control as well. That led to Suarez posting a 4.78 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which means that he was very fortunate to have just a 3.09 ERA. However, since returning from his injury, he’s become a much better pitcher.

He threw 24.1 innings in the regular season before adding four more in the playoffs. He surrendered just four runs, meaning he’s had a 1.27 ERA over that time frame. He’s walking guys less than before, striking out more, and he’s completely eliminated the long ball. Suarez hasn’t given up a home run since May 21, a streak of 30.1 innings. He had allowed four homers in his first 17.1 innings, so he’s been able to dramatically improve each of his three true outcomes. 

Another crucial thing that Suarez has been able to do is get more than three outs. He picked up at least four outs 11 different times while working two innings three times in the regular season. In those multi-inning outings, he’s got 17.1 innings of work, having allowed just one run. That’s the kind of skill that can be huge in the postseason when managers will look to get as many outs as possible from their high-leverage guys.

Suarez showed how he could do that in his two innings of work against the Dodgers when he entered with runners on the corners and no outs. His 100-mile-per-hour sinker blew past Justin Turner three times before coaxing a double play out of Gavin Lux. It took just six pitches for Suarez to clean up the mess, so he was given the opportunity to work another inning. He worked his way into trouble when a bloop single and a line drive double put runners on second and third with one out, but Bob Melvin showed confidence in his pitcher. Suarez proved his manager right, as he got Trea Turner to groundout before working a lineout out of Will Smith

Those two strong innings didn’t just keep the Padres ahead, and with momentum, they also allowed Melvin to save Luis Garcia, who hasn’t yet pitched in the series. It allowed the Padres to use one less pitcher than the Dodgers, which is the kind of thing that can prove crucial in the later games of the series. Suarez was also fairly efficient, as he needed just 24 pitches to work the two frames, meaning that with the off day on Thursday, he’ll likely be available for Game 3.

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Two-thirds of Suarez’s pitches are fastballs, with a 2-1 split between sinkers and four-seamers. With most starting pitchers throwing around five miles per hour slower, Suarez can get swing and misses off his heater. He then utilizes his change-up, which he throws 20% of the time, to put batters away with the off-speed. The change-up is thrown down and into lefties, breaking dramatically away from the fastball. He’s got a cutter that moves away from left-handers as well. While Suarez’s K/BB ratio and WHIP are much better against righties, all four home runs he’s surrendered are against righties as well. Suarez has also shown a strong ability to play better at home, having thrown 24 scoreless innings at Petco Park while posting a. 4.56 ERA on the road.

If San Diego is going to make a deep run in the postseason or even just get past the Dodgers, the bullpen will be a massive part of that. If Suarez keeps finding success, he’ll continue to have opportunities to be the team’s setup man. The Padres need Suarez to keep pitching elite, and he’s given every indication he can.

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