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José Suarez makes push for Angels starting rotation with another impressive outing

Angels starting pitcher José Suarez winds up
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher José Suarez winds up during the third inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Monday.
(Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

Monday was starting to look like one of those nights for the Angels.

An early 2-0 lead against the Yankees had disappeared. With two outs in the second, Dylan Bundy suffered from heat exhaustion, and was forced to exit the game after throwing up behind the mound.

And as the grounds crew picked up the mess, left-handed reliever José Suarez took the ball facing his own cleanup job, inheriting one baserunner against a right-handed heavy Yankees lineup.

When Joe Maddon handed Suarez the ball, the Angels manager thought he’d have to calm down the 23-year-old.

“When he came in, I just wanted to make sure he knew he had enough time, just take your time,” Maddon said.

Instead, Suarez responded with a different message as Maddon walked back to the dugout.

“He told me, ‘I got this,’” Maddon said.

Indeed he did.

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During the Angels’ 5-3 win over the Yankees, Suarez gave up only one run in a 5-⅓ inning outing, his longest stint all season. With a heavy dose of changeups, fastballs and curveballs, the Yankees produced only two hits. They drew just one walk. They struck out five times, the most for Suarez this year.

After entering this season with a 7.99 ERA over his first two MLB seasons — Suarez made 21 appearances between 2019 and 2020, 17 of which were starts — the Venezuela native now has a 1.98 ERA in 27-⅓ innings this season, in a bullpen role that may not last much longer.

Asked after the game if Suarez could be in contention for a promotion to the starting rotation for the first time this season, Maddon left the door wide open.

“It is absolutely something we have to discuss,” Maddon said. “I think he kind of validated he might be ready right now.”

A once highly touted prospect who made his big-league debut at 21 years old, Suarez struggled during his previous call ups to the majors.

Despite a good changeup and high-spin curveball, his first couple seasons were marred by a lack of command and success with his fastball, which sits in the low-90 mph range and has a below league-average spin rate.

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In 2019, opponents hit .343 against Suarez’s heater, including 13 home runs in just 134 at-bats. In a brief two-start stint last year, during which he gave up 10 runs in 2-⅓ innings, Suarez failed to record a single out with the pitch.

That has changed this year. Opponents are only 13-for-50 in at-bats that end with a fastball, including 11 that have led to strikeouts. Instead of getting hit hard, Suarez is limiting damage and working quickly, inducing ground balls more than half the time and averaging more than three innings per appearance.

“The biggest difference is trying to maintain my focus between each pitch,” Suarez said through an interpreter Monday. “That’s really helped me a lot this year, staying calm on the mound.”

He has provided some crucial contributions, too.

When Alex Cobb was forced to miss a start with a blister May 10 against the Houston Astros, Suarez followed opener Junior Guerra and gave up only one run in four innings in his season debut. The Angels went on to win 5-4.

When José Quintana left a start against the Oakland Athletics on May 30 early with a shoulder injury, Suarez spun three perfect innings of relief before exiting after issuing a lone walk. The Angels went on to win 4-2.

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When Cobb was battered for five runs through three innings in a start against the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 12, Suarez was summoned and gave up only one run over the next four frames, enabling the Angels’ come-from-behind 8-7 win.

And Monday, under the bright lights and iconic frieze of Yankee Stadium, Suarez had perhaps his best game yet, lifting the Angels to another narrow win and forcing the club to more seriously reconsider his role.

“[It’s been] leaps and bounds with him, leaps and bounds,” Maddon said, adding: “The best way I can describe it right now: His brain has finally showed up. His body has been here for a bit, but now who he is has shown up, and there’s no telling how good he’s gonna be.”

Last week, Maddon said the possibility of Suarez starting games could be “on the horizon.” After Monday, the horizon doesn’t seem so far away.

The Angels have already made one change to their six-man rotation this month, moving Quintana to the bullpen in favor of Patrick Sandoval after Sandoval impressed while Quintana was out hurt.


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