CHICAGO — After struggling through the first two seasons of his career, left-hander José Suarez got it together in 2021, posting a 3.75 ERA in 98 1/3 innings to earn his spot in the rotation coming into this year.
But Suarez has scuffled so far this season and was hurt by a pair of homers in a 4-0 loss to the White Sox on a rainy Saturday that snapped the Angels’ six-game win streak and featured a 61-minute rain delay at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The 24-year-old lasted four-plus innings, allowing four runs on eight hits and two walks to fall to 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in his fourth start this season.
Angels manager Joe Maddon, though, said he believes Suarez is headed in the right direction and isn’t ready to make a change in the rotation yet. The Angels do have some options, including long reliever Jaime Barria, who threw three scoreless innings after the rain delay in the top of the sixth to lower his ERA to 2.31, and lefty Jhonathan Diaz, who is pitching well at Triple-A Salt Lake. But Maddon said they’re not ready to entertain any changes this early in the year.
“A little bit better overall,” Maddon said. “I thought he took a step forward today. There are some things he needs to do better. We have a lot of confidence in the kid. I think he’s going to be a very good Major League pitcher and a big part of our success this year. Sometimes you have to stay with people, especially if you believe in them.”
Suarez has struggled with his command this year, as he’s walked 11 batters in 17 innings and has consistently found himself behind in counts. He’s yet to go deeper than 4 1/3 innings in any of his four outings this year and has allowed at least one homer in each of his past three starts.
Suarez, however, said he believes he’s getting on the right track and was encouraged by his outing despite the two homers.
“I feel like it’s me again, the one from last year,” Suarez said through an interpreter. “I feel positive and feel my strength again. For me, it was a positive outing. I feel like I’m starting to attack batters. I just have to keep focusing.”
Suarez found himself in an early hole, surrendering a solo homer to Tim Anderson on his first pitch of the game. Suarez threw a 92.3 mph fastball over the heart of the plate, and Anderson didn’t miss it.
He worked his way out of several jams from there, including one with two runners on and nobody out in the fourth. But he couldn’t escape trouble in the fifth, when he gave up a leadoff double to Josh Harrison and a single to Tim Anderson to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Suarez then surrendered a three-run homer to Luis Robert to put the Angels in a 4-0 hole.
“The change to Robert was obviously the big blow with the three-run homer,” Maddon said. “But I thought he battled well. There’s still things to be done with him, but he really just gave up the leadoff home run and the hanging changeup, and that was the difference.”
Suarez remained in the game and allowed a single to AJ Pollock and walked Jose Abreu before being removed after having thrown 83 pitches. Right-hander Andrew Wantz came in and was able to get out of any further trouble by getting Yasmani Grandal to ground into a double play and striking out Jake Burger.
So while it wasn’t exactly pretty for Suarez, he did show some positive signs, including getting a season-high 11 swings and misses. He registered five with his four-seamer, five with his changeup and one with his sinker. But he needs to get ahead of hitters more going forward, as he has swing-and-miss stuff, but just hasn’t been locating it well enough this year.
“That’s the biggest thing, bad counts,” Maddon said. “He fought through some bad counts today, but it eventually got him. But it’s also the number of pitches thrown because of the bad counts. If he gets ahead and gets quick outs, his pitch count will be in even better shape to get him to the latter part of the game, which he’s very capable of. We’ve seen it. He’s just not there yet.”