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Bi-Weekly Report Card: Pitching

The Phillies are currently 16-19 and 8 games back from first place in the NL East. Here’s some notes!

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies finally ended their six-game losing streak on Sunday with a 6-1 win over the Boston Red Sox.

It’s an all-pitching report card this time around and no discussions of Rob Thomson’s lineup (leading off Kyle Schwarber was a fine decision). I’ll be back in two weeks.

Ranger Suárez is Coming Back

Ranger Suárez is set to make his 2023 debut in Colorado, likely on Friday when you sift through the Phillies Fangraphs roster page.

It’s Coors and his first start coming back so there’s a decent chance he won’t look quite as sharp but going forward he should be a big addition to a rotation that needs it.

Suárez took major steps last season and proved he could at least be a solid middle-rotation arm. While he has always worked with a great sinker-changeup combination, he developed two other pitches in the middle of the season.

To work with his sinker, Suárez developed a manageable cutter to jam righties. He needed another whiff pitch so he developed a curveball.

From July to September (that Houston start never happened), Suárez put up a 2.33 ERA and 2.91 FIP in 73.1 innings with this new pitch mix.

Both pitches didn’t put up jaw-dropping results but with a full offseason of development, it’s easy to predict a breakout season during the winter.

The Phillies will certainly need all the help they can get out of the rotation. As of writing this, they rank 10th worst in ERA and 13th best in innings pitched.

Suárez will at least pitch competitive innings which you can’t say about some of the other pitchers in the rotation.

Taijuan Walker’s New Gameplan

One of those pitchers that were struggling to pitch competitive outings, Taijuan Walker, recorded his best start of the season against a loaded Boston Red Sox lineup.

Philadelphia Inquirer’s Alex Coffey wrote a feature about Walker simplifying his game plan, with one specific Caleb Cotham quote that stuck out the most.

Just throw your splitter,” he said. “Throw it four times, five times in a row if you have to.”

Against a lefty-handed heavy Red Sox offense, Walker attacked with splitters over 50% of the time and generated 7 whiffs on 26 swings.

The other difference between this Red Sox start was his sinker usage compared to his four-seam. He had about an even split between both coming in but opted to use the sinker seven more times.

His sinker and four-seam are night and day from each other. Opponents are hitting just .242 on the sinker with a slugging percentage under .400. His four-seam has a slugging percentage over .800.

He will need it occasionally to pair with his splitter, but around 14% of the time should be enough of a balance to generate effectiveness.

Walker went six innings, one run, six strikeouts, and no walks. His one mistake was a down-the-middle four-seam fastball to Tristian Casas.

Bullpen Notes

Luis Ortiz has likely made a real impression on the Phillies, pitching ten innings with a 2.70 ERA.

There’s nothing flashy about him, he has a low spin mid-90s sinker with a good slider off it but he’s recorded outs. He’s struck out ten batters in this span and allowed an average exit velocity of 84.9 mph.

He’s attacked hitters and thrown strikes unlike some of the other depth arms they’ve called up this year. He has the composure needed to be a middle relief arm out of this bullpen.

Jeff Hoffman made his debut with the Phillies on Saturday, recording two strikeouts in a low-leverage eighth inning against the Red Sox.

He showcased a fastball in the 90s with a devastating cutter Red Sox right-handers struggled to pick up.

It’s one low-leverage outing but he’s got the stuff to get Major League hitters out. The problem is walks, he walked one (that wasn’t intentional) in that outing and walked seven batters per nine in AAA.

It doesn’t need to be prime Cliff Lee or anything, just manageable so his stuff can do the rest.

Andrew Bellatti began his rehab assignment in Clearwater with four strikeouts in two innings.

I don’t know what the timetable is for a return but when he eventually comes back, who’s the guy going out? Is it Andrew Vasquez, someone who has given them much-needed length out of the bullpen? Or is it one of these guys?

Tough to tell but unlike other parts of the roster, there is real bullpen depth to cover some of these innings, unlike the last few seasons.

The next two weeks should be fine, the Blue Jays sit second in a loaded AL East but the rest of the schedule is winnable. The Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants have two of the four worst records in the NL.

There’s a chance the Chicago Cubs are decent this year but are currently below .500 with breakout performances from Cody Bellinger, Patrick Wisdom, and Justin Steele.