Wander Suero was named the Washington Nationals’ organizational Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017, after a season split between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in which he put up a 1.96 ERA, a 3.14 FIP, five walks (1.96 BB/9), and 23 Ks (9.00 K/9) in a total of 23 innings pitched for the Senators, and a 1.70 ERA, a 2.79 FIP, 14 walks (2.98 BB/9), and 42 Ks (8.93 K/9) in 42 1⁄3 IP for the Chiefs.
Suero, who turned 27 this past October, talked in late 2017 about working hard and waiting for an opportunity in the big leagues after he enjoyed success that season but never got a call to join the Nationals’ bullpen.
“I can’t control what happens with the decisions the organization makes about who goes up. I was working very hard all season long, as I usually do,” Suero said, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes.
“I personally think I was very capable of pitching up here in the big leagues. But that’s out of my control, out of my hands. But that just makes me work harder in the offseason and prove to them that I am able and ready to pitch up here. When I get that opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it.”
Suero got an opportunity this past season, and he took advantage of it with a solid run in the big league bullpen, appearing in 40 games and posting a 3.59 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, 15 walks (2.83 BB/9), 47 Ks (8.87 K/9), and a .238/.312/.408 line against in 47 2⁄3 IP.
Suero worked with a cutter predominantly (586 of 780 pitches, 75%), holding opposing hitters to a .250 AVG on the pitch, but his curveball (122 pitches, 16%) was an issue.
Hitters put up a .280 AVG on his breaking ball, hitting three of the four homers he allowed in the majors on the curve, which the hard-throwing right-hander said was something to focus on this winter.
“I had some struggles with it throughout the season,” Suero said of his curve when he spoke with reporters at Nats’ Winterfest earlier this month, “... and so I said to myself immediately, ‘This is something you really need to go home, you need to work on this, because you need to bring this to the team and you need to be able to help them with this.’”
Is he changing his grip? Altering something with his curve? What specifically is he doing?
“Not my grip. My grip is my grip only, no one else has it,” Suero said. “It’s a unique thing to me. So it’s not that, it’s more about where it’s going. I was leaving it out a little bit too much, I was floating a little too high, so working on where I’m locating and where I’m putting it is more of what I’m working on.”
Fifteen of Suero’s 40 appearances for the Nationals were multi-inning outings, and 16 were one-inning, 10 of which were clean. He proved useful for manager Davey Martinez and said he was comfortable doing whatever he’s asked to in 2019, though he’d been more of a one-inning reliever before getting called up.
“I prep to go for whatever they need me [to do],” Suero said, “whether it’s one inning, four innings, one batter, two batters, I prep for any of those instances.”
Having made his MLB debut, how are things different for the righty as he goes into the 2019 campaign?
“I think it’s just working really hard and then making some adjustments,” he explained.
“I really took away from some of the mistakes I made throughout the season, so I’m really trying to learn from that, and those things I’m trying to change.”
One thing he’s not going to change? That cutter. Suero told the WaPost’s Chelsea Janes last August that he knew the pitch was, “... the reason I’m here. It’s what got me here.”
Where did he pick the cutter up and when did he realize what a weapon he had?
“I’d like to say my cutter was a pitch that sort of came naturally to me,” Suero said.
“I felt very comfortable with it. I didn’t think too much about it, I just always worked on it, but as I realized it was something that I could do and I felt comfortable with, that’s when I sort of started studying other people’s just to see what they did, and so I would observe video on Mariano [Rivera] just to see what I could pick up.”
Not a bad role model. Will Suero end up starting the season in the Nationals’ bullpen? There have already been some big additions with Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal added to the mix. Will Suero be able to build on last year’s breakthrough campaign and claim a spot?