Phillies World Series: Zack Wheeler starts Game 6 but Ranger Suarez could pitch, too

The start in the Phillies’ win-or-go-home Game 6 in Houston Saturday night goes to Zack Wheeler, but Ranger Suarez could find himself involved for the third time in this World Series if needed.

Suarez appeared in relief in Game 1 and started Game 3 on short rest. He’s pitched 5⅔ scoreless innings in the World Series and has a 1.23 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP in 14⅔ innings this postseason.

Suarez has started playoff games against the Braves, Padres and Astros, closed out the NLCS with a save and was used for lefty-lefty matchups against Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker last week.

He lines up to start Game 7 if there is one, but Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Friday that he won’t hesitate to use Suarez in relief of Wheeler. It seems likely the opportunity would present itself given the multiple times the Phils will have to navigate the Alvarez-Alex Bregman-Tucker section of the lineup. In a perfect world for the Phillies, Wheeler pitches well enough or they lead comfortably enough to save Suarez for Game 7.

“For Game 7, we’ve probably got both Ranger and (Aaron) Nola lined up,” Thomson said. “Probably not a whole pitch count. So if we needed Ranger in Game 6, I think I’d use him, and then we’d have to go full bullpen in Game 7, but Nola would get the start at that point.”

Uncertainty looms over this start for Wheeler. His velocity was down in Game 2, even with extra rest, and he put nine men on base over five innings, allowing five runs. Wheeler has maintained that he is healthy, that the dip in velocity is not due to his elbow barking or because of the line drive that struck him near the knee in the NLCS.

 

He threw a bullpen session on Thursday and the Phillies were satisfied with what they saw.

“Just try to be a stopper and give our team one more chance after tomorrow,” Wheeler said. “Tomorrow’s a must-win and I’ll take pride in that. Hopefully, I can go out there and give us the best chance.”

Whichever version of Wheeler shows up, the Phillies need more from their offense. They are 1 for 23 with runners in scoring position since the fifth inning of Game 1 and several key hitters are slumping at the worst time. Rhys Hoskins is 0 for 10 since homering off of Lance McCullers Jr. midway through Game 3, while Nick Castellanos is down to .197 this postseason with a .262 slugging percentage. There has to be some concern on the Phillies’ part that their top two hitters, Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, won’t see many pitches to hit at Minute Maid Park.

The Phillies face Framber Valdez in Game 6. The left-hander has stifled the Phils twice over the last month with a sinker-curveball combination that misses bats and generates so many groundballs. Valdez struck out 10 over five scoreless innings to beat the Phillies on October 5 and followed with 6⅓ innings of one-run ball, striking out nine, in Game 2 of the World Series.

Valdez was almost as difficult for the Phillies to pick up as Cristian Javier was in Game 4, when he pitched the first six innings of the Astros’ combined no-hitter.

Could the two looks the Phils have had at Valdez help them in Game 6 as they try to extend their playoff run by another day?

“The more you see a pitcher, the more you see the shape of the pitches and see it up close, see how the fastball sinks or rides, I think you have a better chance,” Thomson said. “I thought we had better at-bats in the World Series start than we did in the regular-season start, so hopefully that continues.”

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