Phillies vs. Mets: Ranger Suarez bounces back but Phillies’ bats silenced by Kodai Senga
NEW YORK — Tuesday’s series opener at Citi Field was the official one-third mark of the Phillies’ season and it played out the way a good portion of their first 54 games have, with too many swings on pitches outside the strike zone in a 2-0 loss.
The Phils were facing Mets right-hander Kodai Senga for the first time. The $75 million right-hander had walked at least three batters in eight of his nine starts since coming over from Japan but didn’t walk anyone Tuesday night. The Phillies had just one baserunner in his seven innings, a Kody Clemens single. They chased 43% of Senga’s pitches outside the strike zone, well above the league-average chase rate of 31%.
Even when they did exercise patience, the Phillies didn’t get the calls. Brandon Marsh worked a 3-1 count with two outs in the fifth inning and the Phils down a run. A pitch well out of the zone high was called strike two and Marsh struck out a pitch later. Every call like that matters in a tight game.
Senga definitely had his “ghost forkball” working against the Phillies, generating a whiff 12 of the 18 times they swung at it. But a lack of plate selection has been a constant theme in the Phils’ 25-29 start to the season. Only six teams in the majors have a lower walk rate. Only the White Sox have chased more pitches outside the zone.
The Phillies’ most selective hitter, Bryce Harper, was out of the lineup for the first time since returning May 2 from Tommy John surgery. Manager Rob Thomson said it was not injury-related, but it was curious that he did not even use Harper as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a two-run game.
Thomson’s explanation before the game was that the Phils wanted to sit Harper either Sunday or Tuesday to give him two full days off with Monday’s off day. Harper wanted to play Sunday, so the Phils sat him Tuesday. If that was indeed the reason, it sure would have made more sense to rest him Sunday night in the Spencer Strider-Dylan Covey game which skewed heavily in the Braves’ favor.
The Mets’ setup men have been shaky and Adam Ottavino heard boos after immediately sending the tying run to the plate by walking J.T. Realmuto on four pitches to lead off the eighth inning. Realmuto, though, was thrown out stealing second in a two-run game to bail him out. Ottavino was out of the inning a few pitches later and David Robertson pitched the ninth for a save.
Ranger Suarez bounced back with 6 solid innings, a promising sign after how poorly he pitched in his first three starts. He threw more strikes, worked ahead in counts and had his full repertoire working.
“That’s the whole key, he’s got to get ahead and locate,” Thomson said pregame. “Use the changeup and keep people off balance. Add, subtract, pitch up, pitch down. He’s got that type of ability, and when he does that, he’s usually pretty successful.”
In his first three starts since returning from an elbow injury, Suarez put 22 men on base in 11 innings and had a first-pitch strike rate just over 50%. Against the Mets, he threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of the 26 batters he faced.
The Phillies needed to see signs like these from Suarez. They’d received a combined 6.30 ERA from Suarez and Taijuan Walker entering Tuesday, but Walker has come around slowly, pitching well in four of his last five starts. Now the Phils hope Suarez can get on a roll. Mid-rotation production would mask some of the problems the Phillies are having in the No. 5 spot.
The Phils are 2-3 on their first NL East road trip of the season. They have two more games in New York and three in D.C.
Aaron Nola (4-3, 4.59) starts Wednesday night opposite Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 6.75).
It’s Walker (4-2, 5.57) vs. Max Scherzer (4-2, 3.54) in the series finale Thursday afternoon.