Phillies starter Ranger Suárez has been slowed the past couple weeks after experiencing some forearm tightness early in the spring. The Phils haven’t broadcast any long-term concern but the issue seems to be trending towards a season-opening injured list stint.
Manager Rob Thomson told reporters today the southpaw continues to be bothered by inflammation in his throwing elbow (link via Matt Gelb of the Athletic). An MRI fortunately didn’t turn up any structural damage and Gelb reports that Suárez could begin throwing as soon as Friday. Still, it’s another minor setback that puts his availability for Opening Day in jeopardy, Thomson acknowledged.
If Suárez has to open the year on the shelf, the Phils will be down two possible members of their Opening Day rotation. Top prospect Andrew Painter was vying for a job this spring before a UCL sprain necessitated at least a month of downtime. Suárez’s issue doesn’t appear as concerning but leaves some questions behind the top three of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Taijuan Walker.
Lefty Bailey Falter, who came into camp competing with Painter for the fifth starter job, now seems assured of an Opening Day rotation spot. Lefty Cristopher Sánchez, who might have been next on the depth chart, has some triceps soreness. Righty Nick Nelson was also in the rotation mix early in camp but has been bothered by a hamstring concern. That’d leave Michael Plassmeyer as the most straightforward option to step into the #5 role.
However, Gelb suggests the Phils are likelier to turn to Matt Strahm as a starter if needed early on. The southpaw worked solely in relief last year with the Red Sox, tossing 44 2/3 innings over 50 outings. Strahm had some early-career experience out of a rotation, though, and his five-pitch mix created some speculation he could sign as a starter in free agency this winter.
That didn’t transpire. The Phillies added Strahm with the intent to keep him in the bullpen and while that seems to remain the long-term plan, they’ve stretched him out as a multi-inning arm in camp. That’ll still be the case even if he’s kicked back into relief midseason. “Once Ranger gets back, whenever that is, Strahm goes back into the bullpen,” Thomson said (via Gelb). “And he’s still lengthened out. So that would be good.”
Kicking Strahm to the rotation would subtract one lock from the Opening Day bullpen. The Phillies would still have the hard-throwing duo of José Alvarado and Gregory Soto as left-handed options late in games. Moving Strahm to the starting staff could clear an Opening Day middle relief job for someone like Yunior Marté or Erich Uelmen.